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July 2021 – single & track reviews – Sug Daniels’ ‘Kintsugi’; Jesse D’Kora’s ‘Far from Home’; No Thee No Ess’ ‘Chorus’

16 Jul

“I get broken, I get mended by my love for you.” Yes, things can be fixed, but if what was broken was and is something that runs deep, you need a memory of that fracture. You have to have it that way in order not to get fooled again, or to ensure that justice is highlighted, or perhaps simply to know yourself.

Under her light, knowing blues-y vocal, Sug Daniels‘ ‘Kintsugi’ has gently bouncing ukelele, soft bops of bass and gentle burbling punctuations of Leslie-fied electric piano. It’s also got a name taken from Japanese art. Kintsugi is the practise of picking up a broken piece of pottery and repairing it, but not with transparent glue and the deception that nothing happened.  Instead, the repairs are done with lacquer blended with precious metals – gold, silver, platinum – making burnished veins and patches for the points of damage and the former fractures. Fixed, but highlighted. Mended but remembered.

For Sug, kintsugi serves as a personal metaphor for “the botched relationship between America and a black woman coming into her own.” It’s also a perfect metaphor to build a bruised-yet-hopeful love song around. Here, she does both; and you can read ‘Kintsugi’ as either thing. Sug doesn’t dig too deeply into the hurts, exploitations and callousness doled out, but ensures that you know that they happened and that she’s unbowed. “When you need me, / know I’ll be there, / ‘cos I grew up poor-tough, darlin’, / and I ain’t never, never scared… / When you gonna do right by me? / Glad I’m on this side of history. / I just want a fighting chance, you see. / Don’t leave me here in misery.”

It’s unfooled, it’s mindful and it’s tinted with the lightest shade of blues; but it’s upbeat and choosing a hopeful mutual path. “I‘m willin’ to try, I’m even willin’ to die. / Got nothin better to do, ‘cept I want to do it with you.” Some might quibble at the shortage of killer lines, or that there are jabs left unlanded; but Sug seems to take all such matters as known and read. Instead, this is a low-key plea – and manifesto – for a step away from bullying, from neglect and bad treatment, perhaps from mutual destruction. It’s all there, reading between the cracks. 

Emerging just as Covid-19 takes its third bite out of British life, Manchester singer-songwriter Jesse D’Kora makes his debut appearance via a softly melancholic song about long-distance relationships and break-ups. Topical. However, it’s not Covid-driven capsule pop: not enhanced by quarantine, anomie and angst; not languishing over forced separations. ‘Far from Home’ comes from an earlier, more innocent age – one in which distance was something regularly travelled, even to the point where it became a daily irritation.

“If only you had moved closer to me,” sing-sighs Jesse, as if that had been the straw that broke the camel’s back; and perhaps it was. Love does, after all, founder on mild, cumulative delays; on small over-stretchings; on gradually worn-down patience that can’t be patched. Jesse is soft-voiced, kind-toned, but he’s clearly slipped past the point where he has enough willpower to keep things going. “I’m going home, I need to find another way – / ‘cos I’ve been with you too long now, / and I can’t erase the words that stained us yesterday.”

In terms of tone, ‘Far from Home’ could have emerged at any time in the past twenty years – at any point in which someone felt like blending upbeat jangle-pop with a Milky Way dream-pop swoosh (or imagining what might have happened had Chris Bell foisted a more galactic production style on The Go-Betweens). Gently propulsive narcotism and solipsism turn alienation and numbness into heavy-lidded grace, letting life puff away into car-wakes and distant flame-ups. “I’m driving through a valley just to be with you, / and I’m falling asleep now at the wheel,” Jesse laments over the jangling yearn of his own guitars, a light-bodied baby Glenn Campbell lost in the Pennines. “And I crash and burn like there’s any other way. / Cracks in the windscreen lead me back to home. / It’s where I go and where I’m coming from. / It’s where I feel that I belong. / It’s liberating now you’re gone – / now it’s time that I moved on.”

Perhaps he’s a gentle romantic turning back to his roots; perhaps he’s a plausibly soulful bastard worming his doe-eyed way out of a commitment. Either way, he’s made a good first impression. 

More psychedelic factors bleed into ‘Chorus’, by No Thee No Ess,  although in this case it’s more like eructation than decoration. The Cardiff psychedelicists have recently upped their game by collaborating with onetime μ-Ziq and Rocketgoldstar guy Frank Naughton, who gleefully brings his own toys to the game. Consequently, ‘Chorus’ sounds like a series of dogged mid-air collisions – first Hawkwind smacking into a cluster of seagulls, with the resulting airborne contusion then clipping a seaside amusement arcade, and finally the whole mass exploding through the kind of rootless, genderless ’90s post-rock consciousness you’d get from A.R. Kane. 

No Thee No Ess have put out some driving weirdness before (punctuating and puncturing the clarity of their usual acid folk/acid pop explorations) but never anything quite so gleefully liberated from gravity or from containment. If the history of British psychedelia was a set of sequential smoke rings, ‘Chorus’ would also be the charged and speeding particle stunting its way through all of them. Swamp-bubbling synth bass, white-noise scurf, and little piled-up analogue-electronic foldings all play their part alongside the guttural guitar chug, but what really puts the cherry on the cake is the singing, in which falsetto vocals are bricolaged with carolling voicetone samples in an undulating cable of studded sound. It sounds as if someone’s waylaid and spiked a minor angel, who’s now hurtling through the skies on its own, singing in tongues, blurting out an incomprehensible paean.

I’ve tried to pick out the lyrics and failed twice; first practically and then philosophically, feeling that trying to comb this glorious voice-stream into straightforward sentences would somehow undo its spell. As a phalanx of synthesizers swing into place and then joyously fragment, like Cian Ciran and Tim Blake in a happily turbulent wrangle with a young Vangelis), I decide not to pin anything down any further than that. Sometimes you’ve just got to let things sing away, and be blown ahead of them.

Shug Daniels: ‘Kintsugi’
Weird Sister Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
12th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music

Shug Daniels online:
Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music 

Jesse D’Kora: ‘Far from Home’
doink (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
16th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify

Jesse D’Kora online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Instagram  

No Thee No Ess: ‘Chorus’
Surk Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
16th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, Amazon Music

No Thee No Ess online:
Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music  

July 2021 – single & track reviews – Lizard Brain’s ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’; Vi. & sam’s ‘Pressure’; Parnell March’s ‘Therapy’

9 Jul

A little parable about bigotry from politically-inclined Cambridge pop brain Lizard Brain lays out the nonsense of segregation, and of Jim Crow racism. ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’ draws heavily on the educational thought experiments of Jane Elliott, in which school classes were divided up purely on the basis of eye colour and then made to act out rules of discrimination, of social caste and of restricted association based on that distinction.

Via archive samples, Jane’s crisp voice punctuates the retro-synth-pop bounce, buzz and beat in which Lizard Brain have chosen to sheath the song; almost in duet with on/off Lizard Brain vocalist Tony Jenkins as she delivers her satirical edicts. “Brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people… You blue-eyed people are not to play with the brown-eyed people at any time.” Meanwhile Tony, dreamy and gentle, provides the emotional content, the empathy which soothes the sense of outrage. “Young girl she cries, / tears crystallize… / Can’t understand / the heavy hand / “look at the things they do, / because my eyes are blue”…”

There’s never any question of where Lizard Brain’s own sympathies lie, regarding Jane and her lessons –“She can see the people we should be / and what we all should do.” This is essentially an adjunct to the original experiment, a pop reduction for a classroom singalong. It even ends with a quick sample of Jane proposing the idea of discrimination as fair to her classful of children, and with them resoundingly rejecting it. Unambiguous in its stance – a spelled-out whiteboard lesson rather than a philosophical trick-bag – this might not be exactly what you or I need as adults; but in its ethical straightforwardness it might be exactly what our kids need (assuming that they’ve not already learnt their civics, and they’re not already way ahead of us).

In contrast, ‘Pressure’ – the latest from Swedish production duo Vi. – deals with the problems in being straightforward. Housed in a softly melancholic deep house pop frame, and helmed by singer sam, it dramatizes the feelings of someone wanting to vent deep emotions but being terrified of judgement. Right from the start, it’s rooted in imminent panic (“blurry vision, voices in my mind – wish I could flow the world around me,”) and building angst ( “I got way too many hours on my own, / and I’m not that good at being all alone.”) While sam sings with the abstract tenderness of many a deep-houser, his words ripple with introversion (“searching for a sign / I never really made an effort, / falling back to square one all the time,”) and slip into a chorus like a soft-shoe landslide – “I don’t want to talk about it, it won’t work. / Can’t you see that I have tried it – it gets worse. / Gets better if I keep my feelings to myself. / I shouldn’t bother someone else. / Keep it all to myself, just talk about something else.”

The soundcrafting does what it can to capture this, too. While Vi. have shaped ‘Pressure’ to be a smooth, gently tear-jerking slice of contemporary dance pop (and while they’ve succeeded in this), small production details and club mix tricks give it an edge of subliminal hysteria. The instrumental hook is a glorious yet tissue-thin synth billow, tentatively overwhelming but pulled back. Other parts sometimes come lurching violently out of the mix only to be yanked back immediately. The effect is one of brittle poise being wrecked by rippling tells – one which breaks down into a silky middle eight of impending collapse. “Please don’t do this right now – I don’t wanna see ya. / I’ve been doing all right, / now I’m gonna leave ya – / tryna find a place where I don’t have to hide.”

All of which should lead neatly into Parnell March‘s ‘Therapy’, a rolling spread of analogue EDM in classic Germanic/post-Boards of Canada style; a serenely ecstatic micro-weir of tumbling electronic tones and melody-pulses. But while there’s a voice is there, it’s tweaked beyond recognition by vocoder into an unintelligible but comforting burble. If there’s a message, it’s muffled and medicated; sunny but slimmed; a minimal, murmuring beehive.

In the accompanying video, meanwhile, a sweet little ginger-haired lad grows gradually more disturbed by online imagery and body anxiety, seeking out the services of a series of slick but shallow counsellors before deciding to take matters into his own hands. A thin film of quizzical irony covers the bright, mundane vistas. Therapists nod along sympathetically while covertly buying stock in anti-depressants; there are cameo appearances from a Joe Rogan video and a Jordan Petersen paperback; and even after he tosses his pills down the toilet and hits the road there’s no clear conclusion as to where our boy ends up. For the moment, Parnell seems content to soundtrack the ambiguous anomie of these states of mind – the strange, shallow elations, the papery calm; the gentle manic high and the buried rumble; the vacant reverb behind the day-to-day noise.

Lizard Brain: ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music

Lizard Brain online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music,    

Vi. & sam: ‘Pressure’
ART:ERY Music Group
(no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Vi. online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

sam online:
Deezer, Spotify  


Parnell March: ‘Therapy’
Uncle Herb Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify

Parnell March online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify   

July 2021- single & track reviews – 2 Lost Souls’ ‘Qanon’; E Rodes’ ‘Isolation’; Pearl & The Oysters’ ‘Soft Science’

7 Jul

Still rabbiting, joke-ranting and stretching his argumental monologues as if they were chewing gum stuck to his fingers, Ian Moss turns his attention to conspiracy theorising with ‘Qanon’.

Not backing them up, of course. His sense of the absurd is far too amiable, far too easily amused to inhabit those angry warrens. Instead, as 2 Lost Souls turn out a growling, churning, tooting synth-funk groove in the P-Funk tradition, Ian capers across the top like the kid’s-party clown version of Mark E. Smith, Manc-rapping sarcastically about shapeshifter lizards, melting ice-caps, Trump, moonshine and doomsday plots. “…’Ere’s armageddon, that’s a fact. / We deal in truth and won’t retract; / but the day, it gets pushed back, / falls off the edge of the earth, that is flat.” 

He sounds like he’s having a laugh, at least; a cackling veteran who hasn’t let age get the better of his critical faculties, or his mither-detector. It’s sometimes a little disappointing – conspiracists seen merely as a deluded flock, worth little more than a dusting of observational comedy and an eye-roll synced with a tongue-wobble, rather than a phenomenon to be taken apart properly; but if light-hearted fun is all we’re going to get, then so be it.

It’s not as if some of the lines aren’t enjoyable in their custard-pie fashion. Maybe we should be content, for the moment, to see some of these idiots off with a bit of screw-you, laugh-at-you dancing while Ian conducts the singing with a bog-brush. “The living Agent Orange is the golden one… / Is all that I believe a con / but your wisdom I can count upon?… / Are you part of that joyless throng, / or are you going to a fancy-dress party?”

It’s arrived a little later than planned, but here’s E Rodes‘ early-July offering. Over the past year, he’s proved himself to be one of the most reliable generators of psychedelic-tinged guitar pop in Britain. ‘Isolation’ continues to build on that. Built around a ravishing fingerpicked guitar part and a decidedly country-ish rhythm as it sprints down the road, it’s sweetly disrupted by pounces of mad panning and exultant sonic smearing. It’s also got one of his most winning melodies so far; beyond the country, there’s also tinges of classic Glaswegian literary indie (Lloyd Cole, Edwyn Collins, Postcard Records) and of Prefab Sprout. 

Musically, it’s delightful enough that you could just enjoy the play of sounds and ignore the lyrics, which would be a pity. Étienne’s worked out a little personal spiritual conundrum, but he wants to express it in Enlightenment terms: maths, geometry and the self. “Raise a finger, point it to the stars, / and the non-Euclidean plane of the night sky / show two lines meet always, not sometimes. / Show your working out, end it with a clear-eyed summation / so one knows it emerged in isolation. / I’ve found myself, I was right there all along, / just round the corner from a certain nowhere. / It has been years and miles / of near-misses and solitary trials in oscillations.” It’s an agile bit of wordery, smuggling its cerebral play across under the guise of tunefulness.

Call me a smartarse, call me effete, but I like it when that happens. I like it even more when that kind of cleverness merges seamlessly with emotion, with humanity; where there’s no awkward edge. That’s what Étienne manages here, skimming like a brinksman round the curb, choosing not to stay in the conundrum. “Just know it emerges in isolation. / We owe it all to chance and isolation, / orphan idioms and isolation. / And though I may have gone too far with isolation, / I’ve reasoned myself out from isolation. / So take me home.” While still keeping up that light-footed groove, the bridge falls deliberately out of time for a few measures, tossing up some turbulence, ripping some wild guitar fragments and pasting them into a swirl: a bit of welcome, manic joy to counter the reasoning. 

If you feel as if you’re being cheated of a carefree summer (whether its by fires, quarantines, or just holes in your wallet), the latest Pearl & The Oysters single might feel like some kind of compensation, possibly also involving a touch of time travel. Luscious and carefree, ‘Soft Science’ is a loving contemporary cop of any number of 1970s quiet storm sprinklings (think Minnie Riperton, Stuff, even the softer Flora Purim end of Return to Forever) and space age pop.

In essence, it’s three minutes of loving tug-of-war and soft banter, dusted with Rhodes pianos, Omnichord and little psychedelic meteorites. Juliette Pearl’s restless summer-baby coaxes a boyfriend (played with gently agreeable charm by Kuo-Hung Tseng from Taiwanese synth-poppers Sunset Rollercoaster) away from his studies and out to the beach. There’s not much more to it than that. Affectionate worrying from her (in both senses of the word), and polite reluctance from him (“I really should work” / “You’ve studied all night long”… / “Love…” / “I told you I can’t.” / “The sun is hot.” / “I don’t want to know.” / “You shouldn’t stay inside.” / “I’m not nearly done”) until he packs it in. (“Well, I guess I could / close my books for now.”)

The rest is drops of sunshine, all of it welcome.

2 Lost Souls: ‘Qanon’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
7th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Spotify

2 Lost Souls online:
Homepage, Bandcamp, Spotify   

 

E Rodes: ‘Isolation’
Don’t Tempt Me Frodddo (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
6th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify

E Rodes online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify

Pearl & The Oysters: ‘Soft Science’
Feeltrip Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
7th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Pearl & The Oysters online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music    

June 2021 – single & track reviews – Obijan’s ‘Ubesvarte anrop’ (featuring Action The Man & Julie); All Cats Are Beautiful’s ‘thought i saw u in the shop last nite’; E Rodes’ ‘Fortune’

15 Jun

As today’s opener, ‘Ubesvarte anrop’ is pretty irresistible. Reformed dream-popper Obijan ropes in both his favourite rapper Action the Man and (I think) Danish pop and media sensation Julie Berthelsen, then lets them loose on something that resembles contemporary electropop merging seamlessly with peak-period New Order dance choruses… but in Norwegian.

The title means “Missed Calls”. I can’t tell whether they’re singing something smutty about area-code hookups, or whether it’s about regretting chances to talk, or whether it’s a tale of ever-mounting farce revolving around phones. Action seems to be rapping about metallophones at one point – and meows – so perhaps there’s some cats-on-glockenspiels action in the story. I can only go by the moods: sparkling syncopations, blue-neon club-night synth jabs, kick beats that tickle your instep, and a bobbing air of keyboard-driven optimism. Bewildered by a succession of London heatwaves and torrential rain, I’m just going to hang onto this one as evidence of a consistent summer falling into place, and I’ll hope for the best.

After Obijan’s retro effervescence, All Cats Are Beautiful sound subdued, but that’s part of the point. As a duo separated by Covid lockdown in different countries, they’ve been spending their time writing songs together over the web about how much they miss each other, blurring them into the world of love-songs (with their own particular femme-queer/non-binary friendship and personal mix adding some interesting ripples to the usual undercurrents).

Elena sings this one on her own, as it emerges from scrappy soul chords to build through layering synth and rhythm parts from a bedroom-studio skeleton to kick drum and a full shimmying pop body. Solo or not, she seems to be singing for both herself and her Cats partner Kyle, separate wishes and memories slotting and merging into each other until it’s just one person again, one combining story. “I wanna show you round my hometown – where I learned to stand up and where I learned to fall down. / I don’t wanna let you out of my sight – the world was pushing me left, but you were on the next right… / I wanna circle back into that place – where we listened to Frank Ocean on the fire escape. / There’s all these moments just waiting in line – I got enough here to last the whole ride.”

What emerges from this merging and layering hints at disco and rave (in those cheerful little keyboard bloops) while homing right on the twee-pop preoccupations of ’90s indie heart-achers like The Field Mice. “Even though we’re miles apart, my mind is playing tricks on my heart. / I thought I saw you in the shop last night but I know you’re taller in real life.” It’s cute, it’s a little solipsistic, but ACAB work affectingly within the fact that love and fellowship are often built piecemeal out of trivia, memento-moments and small, benevolent personal quirks; out of solidarities in parallel; out of finding someone who understands your little flaws and markers, and the sparks that make you think; and that sometimes these little firefly nuggets are tremendously important, and that you miss them inordinately when they’re not there. “You can come around any time / Now would be a good time.”

E Rodes‘ mid-month single ‘Fortune’ sees him back on his own after early June’s full-band Electric Roads outing – and if you felt that that one seemed like a humorous gripe at the pinch of marriage and partnerhood, then you could view this one as a kind of apology. If ‘Soon Canoe’ poked fun at inconsistency, cramped spirits and the apparent impossibility of satisfying someone else, ‘Fortune’ turns it around and focuses on the fonder perspectives of passing time, of gratefulness and thankfulness. “Old, blind, I’m not he who finds gold and silver beneath the sea. / Still, fortune found me. / In her wake, a smoke of memories.”


Easing in on children’s-story countryside ambience (a blanket of gentle hammered dulcimer, birdsong, church bells, street chatter and duck gabble) the arriving song chords build on each other; like worn, wonky granite steps sparkling in the sunlight. As gentle carpeting Hammond organ and winding, wandering bass lead us deeper in, ‘Fortune’ journeys through classic, sleepy-rural English psychedelic cadences. There’s more than a touch of latter-day David Gilmour in here, a sprinkle of pastoral-era Andy Partridge; and, in some respects, answering echoes to the blossoming Italian Anglophilia of Sterbus… but more than anything it feels as if Étienne is finding more of himself in revealing more of himself.

In spite of the sonic beguilement in the loving production and the expansive nature-to-music arrangement – the feeling that this is stepping smoothly from outside comfort to inner reverie – it’s the generosity that stays with us. “Row, row, have no fear / We have weathered far worse storms and stronger wind…. / Song of love, I don’t know? I may be a fool / But it’s the least I could do for you.”

Obijan: ‘Ubesvarte anrop’ (featuring Action The Man & Julie)
Apollon Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
15th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Qobuz

Obijan online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Qobuz   

All Cats Are Beautiful: ‘thought i saw u in the shop last nite’
Moshi Moshi Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
15th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

All Cats Are Beautiful online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram  

E Rodes: ‘Fortune’
Don’t Tempt Me Frodddo (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
15th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify

E Rodes online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify

May 2021 – single & track reviews – Craig Fortnam’s ‘Ark’; Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas’s ‘Bard of a Wasteland’; LEYA’s ‘ABBA/Mary’ (Christina Vantzou remix)

17 May

“If you are lonely, I’ll be lonely too. / Find yourself a wall and I’ll hang next to you. / It won’t be easier hanging there that way / but we can be a diptych for the light of day…”

Craig Fortnam has spent two decades building a distinct style, both with North Sea Radio Orchestra (leafy, nostalgia-toned English chamber music drawing ever closer to lucid, Canterbury-esque psychedelia) and with Arch Garrison (slimmed-down duo/trio songwriting with more upfront personal concerns and a ranging freedom). It’s not surprising that his first solo material (at least, the first released under his name alone) falls close in tone to both of his previous projects. It’s also still very much a family affair, with the Garrison’s James Larcombe contributing piano and a delicately shrunken raft of other NSRO members adding strings, reeds and vibraphone.

‘Ark’ (the title track of Craig’s forthcoming album) is still redolent with dark walled-garden curlicues of NSRO bassoon and cello, gently astringent viola, bumble-bee monosynth and twinkling glockenspiel; all of it pumping away like steam-workings under the naive strum of guitar and Craig’s unaffected Wyatt-ish drone of vocal. Impacted by his loves and losses in the past few years – not least the death of his mentor Tim Smith – it’s downbeat, uneasy and self-effacing in a particular English fashion (a way that still throbs and flows on beneath current aggressive Brexit blustering). As a song, it’s in part a retreat and an admission of fear in ominous times. Craig’s never looked as vulnerable as he does in the video, fumbling around his rehearsal room, gazing anxiously through thick glasses, gently contorted around his guitar or haltingly reassembling broken-down instruments.

However, it’s also a frail but faithful statement of empathy and loyalty in times of threat – a recognition that trust can be rebuilt in the face of despondency. An unexpected coda with a new hint of furrowed darkness suggests that Craig has swapped some of those NSRO green leaves for a bag of tougher, tarter limes; but he’s shored up the delicate song-line, made strengthening bulwarks to share. “Two by two, I’ll paint the people in” sings Craig, “with all my deepest longing.” The clouds may be fat and dark, the cliffs may be crumbling, lights may be going out in the little houses everywhere;  but community starts with two, and then another two.

When much of California went up in relentless wildfires last year, blotting out much of the Pacific seaboard in a broil of toxic brown smoke, it left scars – economic, geographical, psychic. Singer/composer Gabriella Smith might live mostly in Marseille these days, but her roots are thoroughly Californian, emotionally entwined with the hiking trails through forests and over rocks in the wild places, now little more than ash and scorching. Composed on the hoof as she paced helplessly in the Bay Area, unable to stop the despoilment from the raging fires, ‘Bard of a Wasteland’ is the first part of a fierce lament over the wrecking of her countryside.

Rage pushes at the roots of Gabriella’s soft conversational soprano, beginning to unweave its politeness, swooping through its steel-guitar pitching and murmurs. Meanwhile, her collaborator (the genre-flexing New York cellist Gabriel Cabezas) makes his cello sound like – and do – everything else. Jazz swoops and purring, fretless Mediterranean bass lines of the Mick Karn kind; quivering tremolo ornaments to the vocal melodies; staccato thumps and strums; subtle screeches of desert birdcall; reedy drones and a rainfall pattering of fingertip percussion.

All of this is layered into flexing rhythmical and methodic song-loops, perhaps owing something to Arthur Russell’s cello-beat, to African cycles and Italian tarantellas, in which Gabriel explores the rub and the push of instrumental voices while Gabriella digs into root causes of neglect and responsibility, of strip-mining the future and impoverishing the present. “You left us with fire / and we let it burn / You lined your pockets with the breath of your children,” she sings. “All you leave is a wasteland / And we’re fighting to breathe on.” As music, it’s pretty thrilling, it’s rhythm teasing your ankles and hips into dancing. As a story, it’s unresolved and inconclusive: as it has to be, as Gabriella starts to piece together her own emotions, to find out what her new place is, and where she sits on the chain of responsibility (if not the roster of blame).

“Lost time. / Another lick of the tide, / another loop in a line…. / Far enough from the slaughter, / close enough to the dam, / I lost the dream of a daughter / to be the bard of a wasteland.” It’s a reminder that protection of a landscape comes with sustaining one’s own awareness of and connection to it. Gabriella is performing the start of a war dance on hers, to remind those who failed their duties that this kind of failure matters.

On ‘ABBA/Mary’, ambient-classical composer and onetime Dead Texan Christina Vantzou effects a two-on-one remix of eerie New York post-classical rebels LEYA, whose threnodic conflations of violin, harp, unusual intervals and porously melancholic male-alto vocalising have enthralled various freak-pits, noise-dens, art-porn movies and other liminal performance spaces ever since they formed. The originals sound like weeping shroud-cloths peeled off the sleeping bodies of castrati. They’re disturbingly beautiful, their lyrics indistinct and parched, and they’re also deliciously unmoored from time, from strictness of gender, from tone-temperament. ‘ABBA‘ is a meeting of undulant string fades and detuned harp; ‘Mary‘ is more slanted towards traditional balladry and baroque continuo.

The Vantzou blending produces quite a different hybrid. Swimming in on a tide of fluting, falling vocal samples, its shifting spine is built from gentle alteration to ‘Mary’s harp continuo. Of the vocals, Marilu Donovan’s wispy backings are moved more upfront and given their moment in the spotlight; while Adam Marciewicz’s alto is further detached from its blurred storytelling role, now echoing protracted yearning syllables in distant corridors. Throughout, gentle background interruptions prod and nudge LEYA’s original building blocks as Vantzou mixes in computer blips, finger cymbals and insect chirps and the kind of electronic glissandi you’d expected to hear in vintage psychedelic science fiction.

Building assertively on LEYA’s taste for detuning, Vantzou also brings regular and unsettling shifts in pitching, progressing the music from chord to subtly dissonant chord. You’re never entirely sure where you’re being led, other than down a staircase in which the steps are each of different, treacherous sizes. There is no particular ending or straightforward resolution: the component fragments fray and ghost out together, the last sigh of a spectral tape.

Craig Fortnam: ‘Ark’
Onomatopoeia Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released:
14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp (free download with album pre-order), Soundcloud, Amazon Music, Spotify, Shazam

Craig Fortnam online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, Amazon Music, Shazam

Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas: ‘Bard of a Wasteland
Bedroom Community Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, ‎Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriella Smith online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriel Cabezas online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

LEYA: ‘ABBA/Mary’ (Christina Vantzou remix)
NNA Tapes (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
17th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

LEYA online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Christina Vantzou online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

May 2021 – single & track reviews – Loud Women’s ‘Reclaim These Streets’; Penelope Trappes’ ‘Blood Moon’; Spellling’s ‘Boys at School’

17 May

The personal, and the political. Flip a coin next time you walk out of doors. If it falls the wrong way, imagine that at some point you’re going to be the target of some kind of abuse while you’re out there – aggressive attention, or being boxed in, or physically assaulted. Possibly murdered.

Loud Women: 'Reclaim These Streets'

Loud Women: ‘Reclaim These Streets’

If you’re male (and if you’re taking this seriously), you’re probably feeling slightly paranoid at imagining this sort of a world. If you’re female, you don’t even need me to tell you that you’re already dealing with it – often the actuality, but always the ever-lurking fear and concern, and the rage that comes because of the way that this situation just grinds on and on forever… and of how it not only stalks the street, but seeps into the home, smothers the protest, blocks the initiative.

Spurred into action by two particular deaths, those of Blessing Olusegun and Sarah Everard (two outcroppings of this collective outrage, the first of which has highlighted the relative dismissal which the deaths of black women receive; the second how gynocidal murder can be dealt out even by those who are duty-bound to protect), a choral swarm of female musicians have come together under the umbrella of the Loud Women collective for ‘Reclaim These Streets’. In part it’s a well-deserved fund raiser for Women’s Aid. In part, it’s a righteous kick against this horrible cloud of threat and complacency.

On top of all that, as a protest song it works both in message and in form. Written by Loud Women founder Cassie Fox (of Thee Faction and I, Doris) it sits tight in the crossover pocket of punk and guitar-pop, with perhaps Deb Googe’s ferocious dragster-thrum bass as its prime component. Pounding along, fiercely and hungrily, it simultaneously finds room for a whole spectrum of female thinking, emoting, flavourings and positioning. The assured and assertive whomp of punk protest to the bruised-but-unbeaten notes of confessional; the hookiness of girl-group vigour and the whisper-to-gale push of the female chorale; the empowered party zest of women in solidarity; through to the roar of collective rallying.

As for the words, they’re forthright in their abraded, angry sketching of trepidations and injustice (“From the age of thirteen / I’ve known the fear of dark streets. / I’ve known my body’s danger / – can he hear my heart beat?.. / From the age of thirteen, / been told that it is my fault. / Blamed for male violence, / better watch where I walk… / Every woman’s got a story, / breaks silence with a whisper… / Text me you when get home; / keys between your fingers; / staying close to streetlights – / fear of shadows lingers…”). They’re equally forthright in their call for something better, something more just. “We have a right to safety / She was just walking home / Too many women share a story / You are not alone… / Daring to tell her truth / Calling to her sisters… / Till every woman’s safe from harm in her own home / Till every woman’s safe to live her truth / Till every woman’s safe to walk on every street.”

Perhaps its strongest impression, though is the coming-together – the commonality – of so many female musicians from across nearly five decades. A tranche of 1990s indie queens include Debbies Googe and Smith, Salad’s Marijne van der Vlugt and journalistic ground-breaker Ngaire Ruth; Brix Smith adds a gawky-but-gutsy rap in the middle;. latterday rock journeywomen Charley Stone and Jen Macro serve as guitar backbone. Elder voices (with lippy and lippiness) include Siobhan Fahey and that steadily-evolving, she-punk/polymath-auntie Helen McCookerybook.

As for the extended hand-to-hand patchwork of the Loud Women community choir, it contains among others MIRI, Lilith Ai, Laura Kidd (of Penfriend/She Makes War), Julie Riley, Lee Friese-Greene, Estella Adeyeri (Big Joanie) and Cassie’s I, Doris bandmate Abby Werth; plus dive-ins from assorted members of fierce female and female-slanted bands (such as Dream Nails, The Pukes, The Tuts, Desperate Journalist, Gender Chores, Slut Magic, Deux Furieuses, Berries, Muddy Summers & the Dirty Field Whores), all of them asserting and persuading together. It’s a reminder that few things are as naturally formidable – as naturally authoritative – as adjacent generations of women in full agreement, and who are forcefully letting it be known.

From material certainties to something metaphysical. In ‘Blood Moon’, Penelope Trappes imagines herself as Isis (protecting goddess of women and children, divine healer) but also as struggling against present-day burdens which have grown too heavy, too deadening. In the Agnes Haus short film which accompanies the song, a silver car pulls skittishly into a multi-story car park at night and Penelope-as-Isis (tumble-haired, teary-eyed, all too human in her distress) drags the unresponsive body of another woman across the concrete. The other woman’s face is unseen. Her leopard-print coat is snagging, her mass a dead weight.

There are flickers of power in Isis yet – she summons lightning and snow from her fingertips, and is dogged in her hauling efforts – but the film ends unresolved. Having dragged her burden all the way to the moon-shrouded docks, and with both the lifeless other body and her own wig of blonde curls now discarded on the roadway, the exhausted goddess stares angrily into the camera in a smear of kohl and sweat. Around her, the world continues, part-asleep, part-unregarding; a freight lorry cruising slowly past as if all too aware of damaged and brutalised women, and indifferent to them.

Visually, it’s all a bit didactic: besides Penelope’s goddess-role, there’s the fact that that anonymous dragged woman is eventually identified only as “societal expectations” (like something out of a mummer play for …feminism) It makes up for this with its mingled air of dread, fear, resolve and resentment as Isis shudders, pulls together strengths and repurposes fear, tries to function in the face of a massive injustice which billows between the mythic and the material. Likewise the song, which sounds as if it’s been stitched together from shreds and rags of weariness and resolve. The beats are like sparse, distant artillery; the piano sounds as if it’s been dropped from a great height before Penelope could pick a tune out of it.

Her own voice is a denatured wisp heard round a corner, delivering shadowy ambiguous lyrics. Groundings and splinterings mingle with prayers and protest and, somewhere, deep down, the shards of a mangled love song.“Centre body and guide, /show me what to do. / Serve grace with trebles eye, / turn must push on through. / I , I won’t lose. / I’ll tear up our love… Blood moon rising above… / Lover remember / repurpose fear within / along heated lines. / Can’t hear if you are fine. / I’m strong enough, / I’m strong enough…” The picture never becomes entirely clear. Perhaps it’s something which is felt over time… or in a pull-back. Too many congregating factors which rip a hole in the side of strength. Too many furious stitchings-up.

Bay Area baroque popper Spellling delivers a clearer message, somewhere between the fulsome protest of Loud Women and the abstracted one which Penelope favours, but hovering with purpose in a place of her own. You’d think you’d know what’s coming with a song called ‘Boys from School’ – either girl-group coo left as it is or flipped over to express rage at classroom and playground sexism. Spelling touches briefly on the latter (“I hate the boys at school / They never play the rules,”) but she has bigger fish to fry.

It’s not just the boy-runts who are failing her as a person. Admittedly, there’s a hint at dealing with disinterest and thwarted desire with “the body is the law and I’m only human after all / Wanted to bе the one that you need…”. But mostly it’s the whole institution that’s failing her as she drifts, purposefully, through its corridors while gradually disconnecting from its expectations and requirements. “Take me to the Lord before the boredom takes me over.” she hiss-whispers. “I am waiting on his move. I’m going under the floor. / What am I waiting for? / Floating down the hall / through all the voices, through all the walls. / Thought you could be the one to set me free.”

As a song, it’s in keeping with the genre-fluid approach that Spellling’s shown before: it’s a theatrical, near-orchestral shape-changer incorporating gusts of New Orleans funeral jazz, Kate Bush keenings, blended-in Chinese motifs, glam-prog riffs and chilly synthpop flourishes while always keeping to the pace and poise of trip hop soul. As a manifesto, it’s playful but forceful – an out-and-out rejection of being shaped, not just from the outside but also by pressures coming from the inside. “Tomorrow I turn sixteen years and I don’t want to grow older” sings Spellling, a black Pippi Longstocking; turning a retreat, rejection and revolt against adult expectation into a biting political resistance, ‘Tin Drum’-style. She’s called this a “step back into my younger self, my teenage self to voice my angst, desires and disillusionments,” and she’s taking this all the way, unfinished edges and all.

There’s ambiguity here, for certain, but she wields it with deliberate intent. Shut out the sun until I’m small again,” she demands, embracing the need for aloneness and self-reliance. “I’m way too tired to climb out of bed. / Four walls is all I need of friends.” Yet there’s also no self-pity here, and she’s always completely clear and centred. “I’m meaner than you think, and I’m not afraid of how lonely it’s going to be./ If I change my mind I’ll go walking outside, / just to see how the law is in place still.” Blending ambitious art-pop with a dose of that original black-girl wokeness, it’s a prologue to further choice and action; a kind of witchy taking-stock. It’s very rewarding.

Loud Women: ‘Reclaim These Streets’
Loud Women (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Resonate, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify

Loud Women online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, Instagram        

Penelope Trappes: ‘Blood Moon’
Houndstooth Label (no catalogue number or barcode)
Format/other format item type
Released: 17th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Deezer, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Napster

Penelope Trappes online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, Napster, Qobuz  

Spellling: ‘Boys at School’
Sacred Bones Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Streaming/download single
Released: 11th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Spellling online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

 


October 2020 – single & track reviews – Yeslah’s ‘Trancefixion’; Treasure Gnomes’ ‘Messages’ (featuring Lachi); GMTA’s ‘Forbidden Moments’

9 Oct

Staring boldly out of a welter of digital rotoscoping, Yeslah is a virtual aidoru with teeth – a fierce-girl pop star as a living cartoon, a self-declared “animated rap-bitch queen, hell-bent on summoning the return of the female power, and to every female her power”. Just how much of this is really sensual ghost-in-the-machine and how much of it is just a particularly dedicated image filter is up for questioning (well, not so much, really); but ‘Trancefixion’ is a terrifically assured blend of assertion and body-positive narcissism. Literally a wake-up-in-the-morning-and-masturbate-over-how-great-you-are disco pumper.

There’s more to it than that. Bounding through a massive confection of four-on-the-floor beats, porny come-ons, bustling synth-soul brass, winddowns and speed-ups, Yeslah grabs as much as she can in terms of image control and self-summoned goddess frenzy (“I get decked out and I hit the streets. / Nowhere to go but I like to be seen. / I’ve got glitter in my eyes and my fish-net tights, / period blood dripping down my thigh,”) while simultaneously embracing what seems to be a full-on identity meltdown (“I wake up and I don’t belong / I look in the mirror like there’s something wrong / There’s someone smiling from behind my face / I see stars when I masturbate.. / I’m a princess trapped in a video game / I might be a hologram but I’m no slave… / Boys and girls inside a machine, / I start to see the cameras, they can’t see me.”).

Nothing’s in conflict, though. Everything’s rapped with the same level of slinky, sexual assurance. Yeslah spits (no holds barred) about pussy power and being “older than love”; is equally cheerful and arrogant about her bi-appeal; goes cross-eyed, disassociative and Baudrillardian about her fluctuating image and her virtual presence. Other women have been here before – Nikki Minaj, Madonna, Peaches and Megan Thee Stallion to name a few – but I don’t think anyone’s flung themselves quite as gleefully into the maskwork as Yeslah has. “In dreams I am always appearer,’ she raps, during the breakdown. “Reflected, my body is clearer.” Clarity in confusion. The extended mix offers extra crystallinity – not New Age chimes and twinkles, but more like some club nutter playing serious maracca-shake with a giant pair of chandeliers. It’s all about the subtlety here.

Following this blast of hyper-pop, ‘Messages’ is more down-to-earth: New York singer Lachi teaming up with London DJ/producer/songwriter Treasure Gnomes following a bit of mutual bonding over aggrieved texts and voicemails sent to exes, or to gonna-be exes – “you got me on that hang-up, call-back, sayin’ things that nobody ought to hear.” While ‘Trancefixion’ takes everything (from musical changes to violently altered perspectives) in its lubricious stride, ‘Messages’ hops from mood to mood, accelerates, blows up; follows the dynamics of a building monologue when what were once sad love-diary notes and held-in thoughts become full-on outcries.

Lachi is magnificent throughout – starting off soft and buzzing, (“I saw you talking with your friends and I wonder do you ever mention me? / But what could you really know? / when you don’t take the time to pay attention, though?”) rising through broken R&B rhythms and gut-grunts (both skeptical or wounded), and through swelling protest to full-diva wail with nary a moment that she isn’t controlling and shaping what she has to say, even as the surges and counter-emotions play with her. Treasure Gnomes backs it up with beats switching from sparse and breezy to machine-gun dance bursts, and with malleable synth-strokes like cartoon whale-song, while Lachi tumbles and rebounds from feeling to feeling. “I see the way that you glance at me, but I don’t mean shit on the gram to you,” she accuses, before making confessions about sleepless nights and haunted lovesick meals alone. 

With today’s power plays, entitlements and manipulations being so easily spotted, so easily buried under public scorn, it’s a tougher job to make obsession seem dignified. ‘Messages’ manages it, though; never sullying itself with whines or vindictiveness even as its fever mounts. “I’m aware that it’s crazy – I need you to hear me,” Lachi sings at one point, confessing and asserting. Later, during a musical lull, she’ll reveal “I’m no longer up at all hours, I’m finding my energy.” One chorus later, she’ll be back at the love-call; but although she’s currently stuck, there are signs that she won’t be stuck permanently. They’re there to be picked up. It’s in the tone. At some point soon, those message are going to stop, and they’ll be missed. 

On ‘Forbidden Moments’, the spare, moody, ominous pop of Dutch duo GMTA plays us out by etching a picture of illicit mutual fascination: the pull of temptation and seduction where it isn’t allowed. A drum machine beat like a watching camera, slightly out-of-sync with what it’s supposed to be watching. Dark-toned electric piano and the drag of bass. And the voice, mournfully romantic but stony with constrained intent… “Forbidden moments with your hungry eyes. / Secretly moving my hands on your thighs – / Mind says stop, but lips contradicting… / Forbidden moments, share what’s not mine, / the feeling of guilt and tears in your eyes. / Heart wants love, but body’s conflicting.”

A different kind of horny, then. A different kind of romance. Caught under the gaze of guilt and God (if not a jealous spouse) and the clench of northern European propriety. The strain is there – just there – in the grain of the voice. Like many a tragic crooner before him, he’s enjoying the ache, but he’s masking it with a studied cool.

Or is he? It’s cracking. He bursts out with “but don’t you feel that we could be something else? / and don’t you think that we should be somewhere else? / and don’t you feel like we should be running / and we should be hiding away?” There’s not a change in the sustained forebodingness of the music behind him. It runs on. It fades out. No answer, just a heavy question, finally raised. “We are something of each other – / there are only lines to cross…” Out of shot, decisions will be made.

Yeslah: ‘Trancefixion’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th October 2020

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Spotify, Amazon Music

Yeslah online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram   

Treasure Gnomes ‘Messages’ (featuring Lachi)
Be Yourself Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
8th October 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Beatport

Treasure Gnomes online:
Twitter, Soundcloud, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Beatport  

Lachi online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Beatport

GMTA: ‘Forbidden Thoughts’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th October 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

GMTA online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram 

August 2020 – single & track reviews – ReMission International’s ‘TOS2020’; Derw’s ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’; The Forever Now’s ‘Reciprocals’

28 Aug

ReMission International: 'TOS2020'

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’

You can tease The Mission all you like, but you can’t deny that they’ve got heart… not least because Wayne Hussey is usually waving it at you on the end of a long stick. Even during their full booze’n’powders youthful phase, they had an avuncular, endearing air about them, partly due to Wayne’s effusive need to be loved. Over thirty years later, they’re able to settle into the role more comfortably.

Even though ‘TOS2020’ isn’t quite The Mission in itself – it’s performed by Wayne with a small army of friends and allies under the ReMission International banner – it’s pretty much Mish at heart. Tower of Strength was always the key Mission tune, and it stays timeless when it’s building on its key elements: that elegant spidery twelve-string guitar riff (like a slithering slow jig midway-morphed into a belly dance); that knee-patter of a drum pattern; and, finally, Wayne’s voice (showing less of the cavernous keen of old and more of the intimate warmth underneath it). Drawing on mystic Mediterranean drone, its distant kissing-cousin relationship to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, and presumably Wayne’s childhood memories of old Mormon hymns, it’s a spirit-lifter; an admission of weakness, an expression of gratitude, an affirmation of faith.


 
This particular version is a covid/healthcare fundraiser for frontline workers, with its profits to be spread globally across a wealth of charities. The array of contributors include longtime Hussey boon companions Billy Duffy, Miles Hunt and Julianne Regan (the latter slipping smoothly back into her old Queen Eve role), plus assorted characters from Gene Loves Jezebel, including the long-estranged Aston brothers. Other Goth-tinged old-schoolers contributing are Kirk Brandon, Bauhaus’ Kevin Haskins, ex-Banshees/Creatures drummer Budgie, Lol Tolhurst, Martin Gore and Gary Numan. Also on board are Midge Ure, metal/fusioneer Steve Clarke, Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, Guns N’ Roses guitarists Robin Finck and Richard Fortus (the latter reworking the faux-Hindi string parts), Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and (representing the neo-dark side of things) both Evi Vine and James Alexander Graham of noise-folkers The Twilight Sad. Various packages include a tribal-Goth remix by Albie Mischenzingerze and a lullaby- synthwave one by Trentemøller.

Most all-star collaborations lumber along like a tired old tailback, and you’d expect this one to be the same. Instead, it manages to coast like a streamlined train; a persistent smooth swap-over of duties from voice to voice, guitar to guitar, kit to kit. In its middle age, Tower of Strength seems to have evolved from an individual prayer into a communal round, from lighter anthem to campfire hymnal. The Mission always wanted to be luminous in the darkness. Despite the Goth-y star cast, there’s less glitz in the glow this time around, and it’s all the better for it.

Derw: 'Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr'

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’

Having opened up with the expansive piano pop of ‘Dau Gam’ during early summer, Welsh-language chamber poppers Derw are rapidly going from strength to strength. There was a dash of Celtic soul and sophisti-pop to ‘Dau Gam’; they’ve kept all of that for ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’, but have incorporated it into an ornate slow-building confection which suggests a Cymrification of various sources including Clannad, Queen and Brian Wilson, with both a contemporary pop dusting and a hook into the past.

Derw’s particular dynamic remains the creative triangle comprising the songwriting partnership between Daffyd Dawson and his mother Anna Georgina, and Daffyd’s overlapping musical and performance partnership with singer Elin Fouladi: two different definitions of family which seem to have combined into a larger one. The Welsh title for the new single translates into English as ‘Where Did You Come Down’; the core concept is apparently Welsh hiraeth, or nostalgic homesickness.

 
Combining with Elin’s own part-Iranian roots, a sense of place pervades the song: more particularly, a sense of place adrift. Elin’s clear, fresh voice zigzags over rolling piano landscapes, a powerful melody skylarking its own way over plenty of places to land but always restless, as if looking for a new locale in which to renew old feelings and to build anew. Stuck in my limited Anglophone world, I’m probably overcompensating, trying to make up for missing out on the Welsh lyric which unfurls alongside the music; but you don’t have to know the Welsh to catch the mood. This is potent stuff; if it’s Celtic soul, it’s of a new, post-insular, hybrid-futured kind, and it’s very welcome.

The Forever Now: 'Reciprocals'

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’

Mutuality is on the mind of The Forever Now, right now. It’s a little unclear as to where and what they are. Known as Winchester up until last year, previously associated with Toronto but now based across the icy seas in Copenhagen, they’re a duo who seem to be a little reluctant to be a duo. If you take The Forever Now as a solo act, then it’s Monty de Luna; Lauren Austin, however, is the “frequent collaborator” who seems to be something of a fixture and stands to the fore on the cover art. Musically speaking, it’s all a bit friends-with-benefits.

This is probably a bit misleading; but these kind of thoughts are provoked when a song like ‘Reciprocals’ surfaces. With a ruminating electric piano ballad at its core, it’s also a duet with no solo spots (Monty and Lauren sing in strict unison and harmony throughout). Contemporary pop choruses come at us in a rush of synthy planetarium twinkle; but the verses drop, line by line, into bitten-off spaces graced by click and patter, tinkles and rattle-rushes. Monty admits, straight out, that it’s “an honest and naked statement about the end of a relationship” as well as “a metaphor for broader statements about the world”. With his group in flux geographically, nominally and practically, it’s difficult not to read the song as a musing on changing terrain of all kinds.

 
If you’re looking for direct answers in the lyrics, there’s enough here to suggest a rationale for an honest break – “If we’re honest, I’ve been here before. / If we’re honest, I can’t see a way forward. / If we’re honest it’s not worth the fuss, / and if we’re being honest, you know I never wanted this much.” But it’s also about wordplay; masking full disclosure with abstractions and constructions, and (as Monty points out elsewhere) blurring the language of love with those of analytical equations. “So if you’ve got the time, then its time we go, / and if you’ve got the lines, then it’s time we draw them. / Because in another life I’d never let you go, / but I’ve been spending mine on reciprocals, on reciprocals.”

You don’t need to know or think about any of this, of course, and you might be more comfortable not knowing.

ReMission International: ‘TOS2020’
SPV, SPV 243541 LP/SPV 243542 CD-EP/SPV 24354D (no barcode)
Vinyl/CD/download single
Released: 28th August 2020

Get it from: buy/download from ReMission International store or Beauty in Chaos store; stream via YouTube
The Mission online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music

Derw: ‘Ble Cei Di Ddod I Lawr’
CEG Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Derw online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube Spotify

The Forever Now: ‘Reciprocals’
Symphonic Distribution (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th August 2020
Get it from: download from Bandcamp; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Google Play or Spotify. This is also the lead track from the ‘Reciprocals’ EP.
The Forever Now online:
Homepage Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

August 2020 – single & track reviews – Jakko M. Jakszyk’s ‘The Trouble with Angels’; Minute Taker’s ‘The Darkest Summer’; Ivan Moult’s ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

14 Aug

Jakko M. Jakszyk: 'The Trouble with Angels'

Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’

He’s a great asset to the current King Crimson, but it does often seem as if some of Jakko Jakszyk‘s talents are neglected there. With the band mostly concentrating on reinventing and reworking a fifty-year back catalogue, there doesn’t seem to be much room for Jakko’s original songs. A shame, since there are few better at shaping and refining plangent ballads which keep both their grand pictorial scale and their sense of shared confidences.

Heralding the release of a new Jakko solo album, ‘The Trouble with Angels’ (released via a Sam Chegini pencil-shades video) demonstrates all of this yet again. Jakko claims that it’s about “the innate urge to reach out to a stranger, following a chance meeting in Monte Carlo… combined with the monochrome memories of Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’, where a moment of crisis is redefined by something magical.” Maybe so, but only half the story is in there. The song’s aching sadness (expressed through caressing arpeggios, a curving arm of bass, a far-off raindusting of piano and cymbal, and above all by the vast pining space which stretches the song out) contains a mingled looping cord of pain and regret, kindness and guilt.


 
It’s about the desire to do better (“a bruised romantic’s futile plan”) while owning the fact that one might still contain harm, deception and shortfall; still not sure whether the need for a coherent story might override proper self-awareness. (“Fate, vows and happy endings / turn to dust and disappear. / Yet the search for clues is never-ending, / to justify our presence here… You search for signs and keep pretending / that all these moments brought you here.”) All at once, it’s a love song to a passing moment, a hint of wrongdoing done, a confession of fallability continued; and, in that, a archetypal Jakko song. The trouble with angels who have longed to be kissed, / and every mortal distraction that they try to resist, / and the trouble with me and all the signals I missed – / the thing about angels is, they don’t really exist.”

MInute Taker: 'The Darkest Summer'

MInute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’

Continuing the stream of singles from his audiovisual fictional-historical ‘Wolf Hour’ project (which explores, in dream sequences, the emotional lives and social position of gay men across time), Minute Taker releases ‘The Darkest Summer’. This time, the key year is 1989 – the year of the Vatican AIDS conference, and one in which ignorance and lack of understanding regarding the disease was finally on the turn. That said, AIDS itself is never once referenced in the song: a haunting ultramarine pulse of Germanic synth pop which rhapsodies memories, swimming in ghostly warmth – “all of the years that went away / carried away with the tide… / When I close my eyes, I find you in the half-light / standing on the sand, your hand in mine.”


 
The key is the video element: a dusk-blue recounting of a beachside romance carried out amongst the sand dunes and amusement arcades, which suddenly slips into a nightmare of loss and haunting down at the waterline. Saturated colours give way to video glitches as if beset by repeated blows: a lover’s features become a screen for static and violent effacement; a man writhes in oppressive darkness as if drowning and trying vainly to beat his way free.

There are shades, though not explicit ones, of The Communards’ For a Friend: the song, especially in its video incarnation, is trip-wired by shockwaves of loss. You can draw your own conclusions about what brought it on (the swathing of a huge impersonal pandemic, or the small cruelties of people’s individual failings) since the song itself is not giving anything more away. Instead, it focuses in on the furious, futile attempts to cling to the brilliance of what was lost; to fix it in time and to fix oneself to it. “I’d stay this way forever / as long as you were by my side. / (Oh) we’ve got the summer, baby / (oh) if you wanna waste some time… / don’t talk about the future, we can leave it all behind.”

Ivan Moult: 'What More Could I Say?/Toxic'

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’

Previously known for his own kind of singer-songwriter confessionals (a succession of neo-folk baroque songs in the Nick Drake/David Gray vein), Ivan Moult seems to have been infected with a different enthusiasm during coronavirus lockdown. Already the owner of a dreamy, slightly weightless voice, he’s now bouncing and slurring it around the back of the mix for a decidedly Americanised remodelling.

Behind the reverbing “doo-doo”s of his backing singers and the electric country-telegraph-blues guitar he’s now favouring, ‘What More Could I Say?’ initially seems to meander delightfully within its classic framework, like Glen Campbell coming unstuck at Sun Studios. Once you get past the murmuring slurs, the high flutters and momentary keenings, though, you’re left with a true-to-form evocation of the wobblings of love. Its yearnings and its grumps, its desires and trepidations of settling on what might be unreliable ground. “Is it all in my mind / or are you sending me signs,/ ‘cos I don’t want to be that guy… / The way you turn your shoulders, you’re gonna loose smoulderings in my senses… / Are you staying over? / What I wanna know is / whether this is more than a lie…”

 
Not content with that, Ian dials up the reverb even more for a cover of Britney Spears’ Toxic that’s part slowcore country and part space rock, and therefore pretty much a hundred per cent ‘Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse. Discarding the brassy energy in favour of the high, lonesome sound is a kind of masterstroke, transforming it from a tingling celebration of forbidden fruit and remaking it into a dread-stricken mourning over addiction’s pull. Perhaps it always was, but giving it a touch of the Hank Williamses (or perhaps the Michael J. Sheehys) doesn’t hurt. Well, in a manner of speaking, it doesn’t.

 
Jakko M. Jakszyk: ‘The Trouble with Angels’
Inside Out Music (no barcode or catalogue number)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon; stream via Apple Music or YouTube
Jakko M. Jakszyk online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Last FM YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Minute Taker: ‘The Darkest Summer’
Octagonal Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th August 2020
Get it from: Minute Taker shop
Minute Taker online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Ivan Moult: ‘What More Could I Say?/Toxic’
Bubblewrap Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Released:
14th July 2020
Get it from: download from Apple Music, Google Play or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play, Tidal, Spotify and Amazon Music
Ivan Moult online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

May 2020 – single & track reviews – Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts’ ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’; Jack Hayter’s ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ (Sultans of Ping F.C cover); Billie Bottle sings ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’

11 May

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: 'CONFINEMENT​/​release4'

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: ‘CONFINEMENT​/​release4’

The fourth helping of Brighton psychedelia from the Confinement Tapes series is more Heavy Lamb, and more Jesse Cutts. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. As was the case last time, while Jesse isn’t the only Lamb player the line between what’s him and what’s Lamb is blurring into the inconsequential. Certainly ‘All Dust’ is an actual Heavy Lamb piece at least: revisited, re-arranged and re-seasoned by Jesse and the other remaining Lambkin (John Gee), with Jesse’s mum, frequent collaborator and core Confinementeer Jo Spratley back on lead vocals, as she was for last month’s take on Cardiacs’ ‘Odd Even’.

It’s tempting to suggest that they should make it a permanent arrangement: Jo sounds happier doing Lambwork than she does in any other project, and the song itself is a delightful complication, unpacking plentiful musical material from inside a sleek indie-pop/rock shell. Threes against fours, sudden teases of hot spaces; voice keeping inside the chords but finding any conceivable space to hop around inside there; Propelled by Jesse’s cunning, slippery bass the chords themselves obligingly fold over and flip into new spaces so as to give the melody more space to roam and loop back. The Cardiacs influence is strong, but so’s the love for any batch of raucous goodtime English sunshine-pop. The lyric’s as complicated, digressive and warm as the music; something about fragile hearts surviving on the tide, something about continual replenishment. So far, it’s peak Lamb: not just an ideal bridge between rock disco and broader music, but great fun in its own right.


 
As with ‘All Dust’, the two instrumental pieces also contained in the package are new recordings, all played in their entirety by Jesse; in contrast to some of the more archival odds and sods on Confinement Tapes releases, these were only put together this month. In ‘Gutter Pigeon’, wobbled piano encountered during a downpour switching into orchestrated chord clambering, a lazy little pavement circus. After a shimmery start, ‘Small Things’ compresses and unpacks an album’s worth of development in a single six-minute tune. Lovely. If there’s a prog tone to all of this, it’s in keeping with those leisurely Kent’n’Sussex prog tones from Canterbury, Herne Bay and all of the other Mellow-on-Seas these kind of sunny benevolent English meanders come from.



 
From up the Thames estuary (and following his life-blasted, gutter-country cover of ‘The Dark End of the Street’ at the end of last month), Jack Hayter continues his lockdown broadcasts with a visit to 1990s Irish indie. As he recounts, “in 2004 an American band provided the British with a national anthem… ‘Mr Brightside’. Back in 1992 an Irish band did the same thing with ‘Where’s Me Jumper’. In the time of Corona we’re not dancing in the disco bumper-to-bumper. Neither are we going out shopping much… so this is all a bit pants, really. Dunno why I did this.. and I played bum notes too.”


 
Yes, the bum notes are obvious (not least because Jack lampshades each one of them with a quirk and a chuckle), but his warmth, humour and charm – even via webcam – are so engaging that it’s all forgivable. More importantly, it’s what he brings to the song that matters more than a finger-slip or two. The original Sultans of Ping version of ‘Let’s Go Shopping’ – the product of young men imagining a contented, domestic afterlife for a reformed raver and pillhead – almost vanishes under the sweet conscious hokiness of its string arrangements and its honky-tonk drum click. Jack’s version (basic voice and guitar) gently trims off the hints of irony and any tongue-in-cheek trappings.

As I mentioned last time, few people have such a skill at uncovering the tender core of a song. Watching Jack’s treatment is like watching a great little bit of subtle pub theatre story unfold. In his hands, it’s no longer something simple and jolly, but something grown touching and tender. Love for one’s wife, a nostalgia for wilder times but no regrets of any kind; embracing grown-up responsibilities (and burdens) with a sunny chuckle – “you can push the trolley – and I’ll push the pram.” And then, after this cheerful jaunt, lazy and affectionate, the cloud comes: lockdown bleakness casting a shadow over Jack’s face for a moment as the world shrinks and chills, and even dull everyday pleasures become fraught with peril. “Let’s go shopping, / we can wish away our fears. / Let’s go shopping, / the shops are really… near.” Jack plays this cover down as some kind of throwaway. Nothing he ever does is really a throwaway.

Billie Bottle‘s life has been in flux for a while – the transition from “he” to “they” to “she”, the rearrangement of day-to-day living and bands and dressing and sundry ways of doing things. Still, Billie’s an unfailingly positive and proactive character (as shown in her series of songs with non-binary musician/activist Kimwei – the most recently-aired one being here) and most of the unsettledness had eased down just before the plague blew in this spring.

From indoors, she’s just revealed some multi-layered new work taking on and reflecting both her innate calm and musicality, and the impact of an unsettled world. For now, though it’s just a lyrics video, with Billie announcing “well me lovelies, it feels like the right time to share one of the projects that have been on the go here in Bottledom over seven weeks of UK lockdown. My auntie read me the Ted Hughes poem, ‘Wind’, down the phone and I was struck by its power and pertinence. It blew itself into a kind of song, ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’. May you also be filled with its gustiness!”

As a member of Mike Westbrook’s band, Billie’s an heiress to his chamber-jazz poetics as well as to the playful jazzy lilt of the Canterbury sound. Both were well in evidence on last year’s ‘Grazie Miller’ EP, and they’re just as clear on ‘Wind: Upheaval Imminent’, a Hughesian account of a storm which “wielded / blade-light, luminous black and emerald, / flexing like the lens of a mad eye.”). Initially it’s an interplay between Billie’s high androgynous tenor and a sketching, dabbing piano; with drums, subtle blocks of organ, a near-subliminal bass, and a few judiciously-placed sound effects and concrete-instrumental coloration making their way into the mix.


 
Mostly, though, it’s the words and the voice. Billie responds to a setting in much the same way that Robert Wyatt handles a cover, and her carefully-timed leaps from note to note (all with an underlying, broken-up sense of swing) recapture the poem’s sense of awe; its trepidation and exultation, its illustration of the way that fragility shades strength. (“The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace, / At any second to bang and vanish with a flap: / The wind flung a magpie away and a black- / back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house / rang like some fine green goblet in the note / that any second would shatter it.” ) She uses the sprung challenges of jazz – the rhythm eddies, the intrusion of unexpected harmonic currents – to dig into the hinted upheaval in Hughes’ words.

As with the poem, the music ends unresolved – “now deep / in chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip / our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought, / or each other. We watch the fire blazing, / and feel the roots of the house move, but sit on, / seeing the window tremble to come in, / hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.” Structurally brilliant, captivatingly emotive, and an excellent marriage of text and music, it’s one of the best things Billie has ever done in a persistently ripening career.

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: ‘CONFINEMENT-release4’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT_release4
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th May 2020
Get it from:
free/pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp
Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts online:
Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

Jack Hayter: ‘Let’s Go Shopping’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only single
Released: 10th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Billie Bottle: ‘Ted Hughes – Wind: Upheaval Imminent’
self-released, no catalogue number or barcode
Video-only single
Released: 11th May 2020
Get it from:
currently view-only on YouTube
Billie Bottle online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

May 2020 – EP reviews – Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY’s ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ (“mysteries which slip into shadowed corners”)

7 May

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: 'CONFINEMENT-release3' EP

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’ EP

Following their pair of releases last month, Brighton’s Confinement Tapes project is back for a second round – this time with Confinementeers Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes joined by honorary family member Chris Anderson (of Worthing’s Crayola Lectern), who’s also worked with Bic in Brighton kosmische juggernaut ZOFFF alongside what seems like a good half of Brighton’s psychedelic contingent (and, occasionally, The House of Love’s Terry Bickers).

(The third original Confinementeer, Jesse Cutts, has his own follow-up single too, but more on that later…)

Unlike the archived cover versions refurbished for the previous EP, ‘Bright Fivers’ is an all-new, all-original April recording in which Chris contributes as the anagrammatic Cola Ray, collaborating with Bic and Jo’s MUMMY. Initially, it’s his arpeggiating pianos (distanced and tinny, as if pulled from a dusty old 78) which dominates ‘Bright Fivers’; a solemn setting for Jo’s singing, which is loaded with both trepidity and authority. That’s only the prelude, though, and it’s severed from the rest of the piece by a jump-cut edit as loud and merciless as a sucker punch or an axe blow. You even hear the clunk as the mood shifts; Jo switching abruptly into deadpan recitation against a Bic backdrop of guitar static and wind texture, as impassive as the prophetess taken over by the voice of the prophecy.

Whether sung or spoken, the sentences are broken off; dark, punching surrealist gobbets of foreseeing and ruin. “Silence in the air. / Things endure, things evolve. / Between the slopes fivers fly up onto the dream floor. / Fire spreads her text of flame as serious as food / Our towers of graph paper fold up into the silence, / delicate as the girl who leaves the stone and the water – / and the bright moan of the green, / the collapse of a black age. / In the end we never know what we know.” It sounds like something buried deep in peat in order to time-travel; transmitting a warning, or possibly a testament.


 
‘The United Kingdom’ is (mostly) another eleven-year-old recovering from Jo Spratley’s Babyskullz solo project: one which just happens to fit in with ‘Bright Fivers’. It’s another recitation, delivered by Jo to pattering drumbox and orchestrated in minimal, thrifty make-do fashion. Two-finger melodica. Guttural just-picked-it up guitar lines and milk-bottle vibraphone. Cobwebby analogue synth gurgles, dub distancings and dirty blats of fireworks.

Something about the rhythm and chant suggests the cheesy old white-rap anti-classic ‘Ice Ice Baby’. Everything about the words doesn’t, as Jo narrates (in newsprint monotone) a set of disappearances. “A man who hears bells who loves cars” misses his train only to drop out of routine and out of existence; a corporate lawyer vanishes during her solo boat trip; fifty years ago, a cancer specialist who “wraps her dolls in graph-paper by the light of the moon” is last seen in car headlights by the edge of a cliff. All three are obliquely connected by hearts: their rhythms or their interruption, their presence as eviscerated occult trophies or as enigmatic markers; presumably also by the locked-up desires, secrets and clues they contain. All cases are left open; mysteries which slip into shadowed corners of modern folklore or Lynchian dreams. There’s a stress on the regular and on the irregular, but no conclusion on either.


 
As haunting as this can be (and it does build on regular repetition, an inconclusion which nags to be solved), it’s still Bic’s dark-psychedelia project Mikrokosmos which dominates this particular set, providing three tracks out of the five. Two are brief snapshot instrumentals, deliberately left incomplete or brought to dismissive halts. Recorded in 1993 during Mikrokosmos’ cramped early sessions in west London, ‘In the Machine Room’ is an jarring but strangely satisfying hybrid of claustrophobic paranoia and sweet naivety. An uncomfortable electronic hum and weirdly organic rattling (like mice beginning to panic inside a generator housing) passes into a bright nursery march played on assorted guitars, drums and bombastic little synths. For forty-eight seconds, post-industrial grot tussles with twinkly daydream.


 
I assume that Bic escaped from whatever it was that was polluting him: ‘Frag. Familiar’, from 2014, was completed nearly two decades later (long after Bic had quit London), but it missed the boat for Mikrocosmos’ ‘Terra Familiar’ abum. It’s as confusing as its predecessor. A sustained cosmic slam: a huge guitar downchord which is allowed to trail away, while delicate waltzing keyboards come forward to shine over the top. They dance with another brutally distorted guitar line – butterflies courting Bigfoot – before everything hits the wall, topples over and cuts off. There’s a farcical humour to this music. It shows you the stars but then suddenly pulls away the rug, or drops the time-clock on the telescope viewing: almost deliberately crass in the way it brings you back down to earth with a bump. I suspect that there’s a touch of reverse psychology here. To move forward properly, you have to overcome the bumps, denials and trip-ups.


 
Another ‘Terra Familiar’ outtake, ‘Cell by Cell’, is more substantial and developed: a six-and-a-half minute song rather than a peculiar fragment. It’s also a dubbier return to Bic’s Dark Star days: almost a Massive Attack take on that band’s life-scarred fin-de-siècle urban psychedelia, taking in similar elements of Hawkwind space rock and Killing Joke post-punk grimness to offset Bic’s sighing, waify sweetness. There’s a Dark Star-ish sense of resignation too, a voice-of-the-casualty effect as Bic reflects on exhaustion and disassociation, on being swallowed by routine and self-absorption. ‘Just swim, / float to the surface – / as if it’s so easy, you show me again. / But time weighs me down so gently / and all our ideas just drift away, / sinking, / lost in the moment. / Ennui is so easy / and to the end we divide. / Cell by cell to solitary worlds – / undesigned, undesired. / Islands in an ocean of thought / turning inwards defied / to meet with the gaze of impermanence eyes…’


 
The formal Confinement message for this EP is one of “a constellation of songs brought together by this rarefied time. Pulled through the thickness of life and her knowing machine. Mixed and mastered in April 2020 and flung into the dark of these ends of days. Here we are. All alone, together, as one.” As a message of solidarity, it’s an ambiguous comfort: but, as they say, here we are. Questions unanswered. Brutal breaks in expectations. People disappearing, grips gradually lost. Name it, share the names, and perhaps fight it.

Mikrokosmos/Babyskullz/Cola Ray vs. MUMMY: ‘CONFINEMENT-release3’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT-release3
Download/streaming EP
Released: 7th May 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp (As with all Confinement Tapes releases, any money earned goes support care funds for Tim Smith, Tim Quy or Jon Poole of Cardiacs – see previous posts.)

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Crayola Lectern (Cola Ray) online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Amazon Music

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp
 

April 2020 – single & track reviews – Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb’s ‘CONFINEMENT_release2’; Godcaster’s ‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’; Kryptograf’s ‘The Veil’

17 Apr

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: 'CONFINEMENT_release 2'

Heavy Lamb/Jesse Cutts: ‘CONFINEMENT_release 2’

Following up Jo Spratley and Bic Hayes’ disinterring of interesting outtake/buried gem cover versions for the first of the Confinement Tapes releases, Jo’s son Jesse Cutts offers his own familial reinterpretations.

Firstly, his intermittent Brighton odd-rock band Heavy Lamb (a deliverer of “loud demented pop” since 2014 and currently a duo, victims of persistent lineup changes and self-induced social media wipes) breaks cover again for a cover of a Cardiacs tune, ‘Odd Even’. Bar a dew-sprinkling new proggy midsection, it’s pretty true to the original: perky acoustic guitars, psychedelic organ crunchiness, and a happily teetering stack of chords. They even reproduce its Very Happy Caterpillar of a keyboard solo, down to the last charging feint and twiddle. Jo herself guests on lead vocals, and is less of a punk sphinx than usual – although with a tune as bouncy as this one, that can hardly be helped. Like the best Cardiacs songs, it defies easy comprehension. Odd Even embraces life, death, weeping, burial and trust, and flies to you and away from you like a friendly sparrow that can’t quite make its mind up.


 
Jesse’s other offering is a solo track: his version of ‘Carefree Clothes’, originally by Cardiacs-family folk-poppers The Shrubbies (the perky precursors to North Sea Radio Orchestra). In all honesty, there’s little to tell the difference between Jesse and Heavy Lamb anymore. It’s all a fresh rejuvenation of the bouncy, wilful noisy Anglo-pop line which takes in XTC, Supergrass and Two Door Cinema Club, and which sneakily conceals its sophistication behind its enthusiasm and hookiness.


 
It sounds as if Jo may be on board for this one too, which features vocals recorded on Brighton beach “just after the world flipped on its side”. That’s the only hint of Confinement Tape lockdown blues in the whole effort, which is otherwise a springtime hit. Or, to be clearer, a glittering sun-tickled hit of springtime, romping in the garden and throwing concern to the wind. It’s like a little Deist singalong, pulled into raptures by budding daffodils, and not in the least bit embarrassed. As with the previous Confinement release, you can pick this up for nothing, but any cash that you do chuck into the hat goes to support various seriously incapacitated Cardiacs, so try to give generously.

Godcaster: 'Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth'

Godcaster: ‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’

Since their emergence at the start of last year, Godcaster have spat out a sequence of songs like technicolour hairballs. Sometimes they’ve been wild-haired funk followers, a set of white wastrels getting high off the Mothership’s exhaust; or tuneful noise-botherers in the vein of Mercury Rev or The Flaming Lips. At other times, they’ve been fiddly post-Zappa freaks hiding their own sophistication behind a clattery mask.

‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’ pins them to the more complex corner of their freak flag for now. It wouldn’t be out of place at a Cardiacs celebration: a garage knocking-out which won’t be constrained to basics. A hammering kinked (and Kinked) riff starts off immediate and direct, but then ladders off through far too many chord changes: just because it can, and because that kind of triumphant harmonic parkour is somehow just what it takes to con fleapit-venue punks into yelling bebop licks.

The lyrics fit admirably, wrapping themselves around delusions of grandeur and escalating through a violent shower of weirdness. “When I think about how I was born, / the tearing flesh and scales blow my horror horn… / Circumcision of my eye. / Widows cry, / punctured it was by Satan’s arrow. / Sic Red Sea Pharaoh – / Leaving all my wives to bear my children while I / die to my flesh, die to this world, eating the flesh, drinking the wine. / My soul the divine.” You get two minutes of jarring fireworks, and then that’s it; a micro-epic that does its job and then evaporates, like a ancient temple which suddenly explodes.


 

Krypograf: 'The Veil'

Krypograf: ‘The Veil’

No such flightiness for Kryptograf. The Norwegians give you heavy guitar psych in the late ’60s vein of The Groundhogs; and that’s what you get, seasoned by just a little Motorpsycho and Black Sabbath. It’s heads-down, well-trodden non-nonsense oogly for biker blokes who know what they like, their old acid trips hanging like brooding firefly sparks round their craggy brows.

If you know what that’s like, you’ll have no surprises with how ‘The Veil’ is. A ride around a well-trodden circuit, spinning a well-tended wheel; a journey in which no-one ever really gets off the saddle.


 

Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb: ‘CONFINEMENT_release2’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT_release2
Download/streaming single
Released: 8th April 2020
Get it from:
free/pay-what-you-like download from Bandcamp
Jesse Cutts/Heavy Lamb online:
Facebook Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM

Godcaster: ‘Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth’
Ramp Local (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 13th April 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream from Spotify
Godcaster online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Kryptograf: ‘The Veil’
Apollon Records, no catalogue number or barcode
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th April 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp, stream from Amazon Music or Spotify
Kryptograf online:
Facebook Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Spotify Amazon Music
 

April 2020 – EP reviews – MUMMY/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos – ‘CONFINEMENT/release1’ (“the triumph of love over fear and torpor”)

10 Apr

Family. Extended. Play. For life partners Jo Spratley (she of Spratleys Japs) and the elusive/ubiquitous Christian Hayes, a.k.a. Bic (who’s played howling, whirling, stuttering textural/post-punk/psych guitars for Dark Star, Cardiacs and Levitation, as well as adding extra noisy or unearthly touchs to projects by Julianne Regan, Heidi Berry and Pet Shop Boys) – plus Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (Spratleys Japs bass player and Heavy Lamb mainstay) – coronavirus lockdown is providing an opportunity to get their musical lives in better order.

M U M M Y/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: 'CONFINEMENT​/_release1'

M U M M Y/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: ‘CONFINEMENT​/_release1’

Being stuck at home on the Sussex coast means the initiation of the Confinement Tapes. They’re unearthing sundry old recordings from hard drives, biscuit tins, gutted harmoniums or wherever else they may have stashed or forgotten them. They’re polishing them up, and getting them out into the world, while simultaneously raising a bit of money for the ongoing care of various ailing Cardiacs members. (All cash raised from this is going into the support funds for Tims Smith and Quy, as well as the recently beset Jon Poole – if you want to save the Confinementeers a bit of trouble, you can always donate directly via the latter links and just download this lot for free afterwards).

Clearly the Confinementeers see this as something of a resurrection – Jo, in particular, has kept a very low profile for the past year (despite the Spratleys’ triumphant return to action in 2016) and for the past decade or so Bic has been more noted for low-key backups within (or behind) other people’s projects, rather than his own. In their Bandcamp text, they make metaphorical allusions to pregnancy and labour, to inward journeys, the delivery – in all senses – of a new world, and the renewal of loving connections. In many respects, what they actually seem to be talking about is the triumph of love over fear and torpor, and the way in which music embraces and enables this. What you get as this process begins is a window onto the particular, vivid field of English psychedelia which the Confinementeers belong to, both separately and together, and the sense of rootedness and inspiration which offsets emotional paralysis and impels action. I guess that that’s one of the reasons why the first Confinement release is a trio of cover versions – drawing on inspirations and altered perspectives both English and American, and on the soothings, sympathy and compassion behind apparent nonsense and weirdness; and then providing their own synthesis.

Microkosmos is Bic on his own. I could argue that Bic’s work reached a luminous plateau during the short brooding mid-‘90s life of Dark Star (with their atmospheric tales of vision casualties and burnout cases) but he’d be entitled to argue back. Since then, he’s put out three Mikrocosmos albums – scattered meditative space-dust to Dark Star’s supernova, they shucked off the full-band musculature and had Bic revelling in wan-boy spindliness and a ghostly tenderness. In fact, Mikrokosmos both post- and pre-dates Dark Star. This EP’s echoey cover of Pink Floyd’s Matilda Mother dates back to half-forgotten tapes from 1993, when Bic lived and recorded in London’s skinniest house. It’s pretty much a note-for-note cover: while the fey precision of Syd Barrett’s tones have been replaced by Bic’s drowsy starveling keen (and the Floyd’s pattering remnants of beat-band rhythms have been replaced by drumless harmonium roll and wasp-buzzing noise effects), the melting sleepiness and neediness of the original are absolutely recaptured, from the dusky organ washes to the glissando acid harmony vocals. It’s still centred on childlike wonder, and the pang of interrupted sensation; a door-opener.


 
MUMMY is Bic with Jo. They brought out a couple of EPs three or four years ago; strange, slowed-down skeletal garage-goth songs, like the workings of a pair of fasting spiderborgs, or like a distracted feminised/de-brutalised Swans. In this 2015 outtake, they’re reworking an early Breeders song, Oh! (which also happens to share a title with a Spratleys song). The strumming spass-country feel of the original (melancholy fiddle, close-ups, and of-the-moment neophytery) is replaced by MUMMY’s use of drum machine, Gothic reverb and distant angle-grinder guitar sheeting. Jo’s abstracted alley-queen vocal, emotional but enigmatic, is also very different from Kim Deal’s just-rolled-out-of-bed slur. What can one do with the peculiar original lyric, apparently the words of an insect urging others to run and live despite overwhelming and incomprehensible perils? Relate it back to plague fears and to resilience, I reckon.


 
Babyskullz is Jo on her own: and although this is the first we’ve heard of this particular project, Abade is an eleven-year old track, so Jo’s been incubating her skulliness for a long time now. A 2009 take on a song by the Cardiacs psych-folk spinoff (and Spratleys Japs precursors) Sea Nymphs, this is the most directly familial cover on here. While the Breeders and Floyd covers may be the more familiar songs – and carry more of the psychedelic/indie kudos – this one is the most directly satisfying. Reinvented here as a trio of electronic harmonium, bossa-flavoured drum machine and throaty-to-celestial Jo chorale (punctuated by the surge of waves on Brighton beaches, and with a flurry of suspiciously Bic-ish feedback at the end), it keeps faith with the gentle walking pace and sympathy of the Sea Nymphs original. Its fractured lyric keeping step with the wounded, offering solidarity and – like Oh! – an offbeat encouragement. “And though he walks the mid-day sun / he carries his own vile dungeon around / with him and he’s of / all the more reason to be full of life, full of sound and fury. / Don’t be long, / where were we? / Where we belong.”


 

MUMMY/Babyskullz/Mikrokosmos: ‘CONFINEMENT/release1’
The Confinement Tapes, CONFINEMENT/release1
Download/streaming EP
Released: 8th April 2020
Get it from:
free or pay-what-you-like fundraising downloads from Bandcamp. (Update, 9th May 2020 – these tracks were made available in the short term and are currently unavailable – if and when they’re restored, I’ll also restore the soundclips. Other Confinement Tapes items are available in the meantime.)

MUMMY online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Babyskullz (Jo Spratley) online:
Facebook Twitter

Mikrokosmos online:
Bandcamp Last FM
 

March 2020 – single & track reviews – Jack Hayter’s ‘The Dark End of the Street’; Bijou Noir’s ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; Holly Penfield’s ‘Diggin’ It’

31 Mar

“This old earworm in my head while I take my lonesome walk in the time of Corona. A very rough and ready recording and, sorry, got some of the words wrong. Stay safe and stay well.” Warm, self-deprecatory sentiments from Jack Hayter; under voluntary lockdown in Gravesend, broadcasting via webcam, and toying with his pedal steel and with this venerable “best cheatin’ song ever”.

As ever, he plays himself down. Certainly he can’t complete with the deep Southern soul tones of James Carr from the original version: so regal that they transformed the Penn/Moman tale of stolen backstreet fumbles into the tragedy of a king felled by love. Jack’s voice, in contrast, sounds as if it’s been on the sticky end of about a hundred too many bar fights, losing a lung along the way. As ever, though, it’s a strength – a magnificent, humanising flaw which lends his originals and his interpretations a battered and compassionate humanity.

Compared to the majesty of Carr’s pair of cheaters, Jack’s pair of illicit lovers may be past their best; possibly ignorable shunt-asides in the game of life, perhaps stuck in wrecks of marriages, but neither age nor circumstances kills off instinctive passions. Jack’s rendition tempers the tragedy with an air of flinching defiance: his lovers are going to feel the weight come down on them eventually, but they’re going to drain these moments for whatever all-to-rare life savourings present themselves. “I know time is gonna take its toll / We have to pay for the love we stole / It’s a sin and we know it’s wrong / Oh but our love keeps coming on strong…”

 
Bijou Noir‘s Eurotrance version of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ (originally broadcast as part of the Give|Take label’s COVID-20 Live Streaming Series) really ought to be laughable, but it isn’t. The original Beatles version was a benchmark, their front-and-centre pop suddenly kissed by raga and the avant-garde with none of any of the elements involved being diminished. Four decades of airplay might have dulled its impact, but that’s no reason to deny that impact: the feeling of a song curling up at the corners like a magic carpet, of time running every whichway; and beyond that, the ‘Book of the Dead’-inspired call for the death of ego and the willing surrender to the journey beyond it.

Staying true to his own methods, Bijou Noir’s Augustus Watkins sacrifices much. He ignores the original’s specific psychedelic dislocation; he strips the song back to the melody line; and then he refurbishes it with layer upon layer of blushing skirling synthwork, of the kind mined by Simple Minds back in the start of the ’80s. In many respects, it’s the clean edit, and we know what kind of butchery that can involve.


 
Augustus gets around this by tapping into a different egolessness: that of the communality of the dancefloor, where hundreds of solipsistic experiences can merge into a collective spiritual one. What’s left after all of the 1960s sonic wizardry is removed? Lennon’s instinct for tune and directness; a set of instructions which need no technology and, indeed, next to no culture; added to this, Bijou Noir’s knack for the triggers of clubland and the transcendent post-humanity of electronica.

In contrast to the two songs above, ‘Diggin’ It’ might be original, but perhaps it isn’t the best song that a revitalised Holly Penfield has to offer these days. The chorus is pure, hoary corn and it doesn’t have the tango grace of last year’s ‘La Recoleta’. Still, there’s a winning exuberance to its roadhouse rock swagger and its brassy flourishes. Further evidence of Holly’s ongoing trip into roots rock, it’s happy to be a simple celebration of love and contentment, and it brims over with the fulfilment that was missing from the angsty synthpop of her Fragile Human Monster years.


 
With time having added a little extra whisky grain to her gorgeous, gutsy voice, Holly’s spreading the satisfaction – “Never thought I could get this far, / but if love is all then that’s what you are. / With your secret smile and forgiving eyes / your laughing style makes you Buddha-wise / Drank from cups of tears and trust, / paradigms of pain. / Thirsting for / something more -/ and now my glass is overflowing in the pouring rain.” In the spirit of sharing, this is a free download from here, and you can cop a direct quick listen here

Jack Hayter: ‘The Dark End of the Street’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Video-only track
Released:
28th March 2020
Get it from: view on Vimeo and YouTube
Jack Hayter online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Deezer Spotify Amazon Music

Bijou Noir: ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’
Give|Take, GT012 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th March 2020
Get it from: free download from Give|Take online store oy pay-what-you-like from Bandcamp
Bijou Noir online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Holly Penfield: ‘Diggin’ It’
Raymond Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only free single
Released:
31st March 2020
Get it from: free download here
Holly Penfield online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music
 

February 2020 – single & track reviews – Gallery 47’s ‘I Wish I Was’; Wugo’s ‘Océan’; The Powdered Earth’s ‘Blossom’

28 Feb

Gallery 47: 'I Wish I Was'

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’

From the land of drifting day-jobs and lo-fi song nights, Nottingham’s Jack Peachey, a.k.a. Gallery 47, moves into his second decade of music. As ever, he sounds like a slacker Jon Anderson; one who never left the shared flats and scruffy bedrooms, nor left the airy space of ’60s pop: there’s the high birdy voice, the elevated melodies, the melancholia that only faintly tinges the carefree tunes (cloud shadow on a fine afternoon). His drowsy electric folk-pop is fragile without being brittle or vulnerable: he’s a blade of grass in the breeze, capable of bending in the unwelcome currents.

 
Look a bit deeper, though, and there’s existential horror, treated with a feather-light touch, belying the Andersonian falsetto with a touch of Elliott Smith. Even more, perhaps, a shade of Love’s ‘Forever Changes’, in which everything under the sun also has an ominous shadow. Launching from a tabla zing but immediately settling for drums which flap and billow like a pair of antique flares, ‘I Wish I Was’ shows Jack gently adrift in a world of options, finding in each of them a nearing ghost of entrapment. “Did you know you can search for conditions online? / Read a graph of relative norms and real lives? / How close or far you are from the day you’re gonna die?” The gentle disappointments mass, almost imperceptibly, into a pall, neither family nor travel a solution, with escape into a spliff the only temporary remedy. “See, the jail we’re going to has no get-out card at all…” Throughout, though, the shrug is a gentle-spirited one. Jack doesn’t rail or sulk about things, just gently regrets them and lets them slip over him.

Wugo: ‘Océan’

Wugo: ‘Océan’

‘I Wish I Was’ is about helplessness settling around you like the flapping wings of a friendly pterodactyl. ‘Océan’, the latest song from French bedroom-popster Wugo, is apparently about “a sea change in people, a hope of a collective conscience to set things right.” It’s in his native French, so I can’t quote him directly. Translated, though, it’s a sighed state-of-the-world lament for a literal and figurative sea that’s been polluted by human short-sightedness and greed.

Wugo’s not slow to lay the blame, but he’s not quick to stagnate in despair either, travelling backwards in memory to honour how things once were, hoping that things will be in a better state in future decades, gently dropping a simple ultimatum. To catch the feeling for how it is, bask in the music: powder-blue puffs of synth and wriggly electronic lines like a kite-tail in the sky. Chillout minus the complacency.


 

The Powdered Earth: 'Blossom'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’

With their third single (after the curtain-raising instrumental of ‘The Atlantic‘ and the illustrative folk testimony of ‘Hold Your Breath‘), The Powdered Earth feel as if they’ve found their centre with ‘Blossom’. Neither of them men in the first flush of youth, they’re well aware that not all lives end in crashes or operatics: that some longer lives will fade delicately instead, like old watercolours.

While instrumental half George Moorey provides misty piano, gently lagging guitar and a touch of synth cello, vocalist Shane Young comes to the fore with a gently narrated observation of an ageing widower’s rituals as he gathers tree and hedge flowers for his empty house; male and meticulous, understated but kindly. If you’re looking for it, there are parallels with Wugo’s chillout in the overlaying of memory with the present (“he chuckles into space / at her disapproving face / as he takes the crystal glassware from its ornamental case. / Along the window sills, / beside dispenser packs of pills, / are the fragrance bottles salvaged from the sale. / She would joke his perfume was brown ale…” ), plus the overlapping of times and promises altered. What’s different is the matter-of-factness about the protracted aftermath of someone’s death, its quietus and continuance: “he ties each sandwich bag / with a disused Christmas tag / and documents the scent with studious care. / Then he shuffles round the house / that he once shared with his spouse / and he fills up every piece of crystalware.”).


 
The spoken poetry is deliberately workmanlike, relying on its sober intimations rather than on over-flowering, and it’s all the more effective for that. Last time around, I mentioned Arab Strap as an unlikely comparison; if Moffat and Middleton stood as witnesses and recounters to dirty realism and damn well made you care about it, Moorey and Young could be said to be doing the same thing for a more genteel and understated strand of realism. You could picture the lyric being spelled out on a bereavement card, or a silver-surfer web meme, but that doesn’t take anything away from its understated compassion. “So precious quick the petals start to brown – / once more into the fields in dressing gown…” Logging the quiet and unspectacular dignity of carrying on. Someone needs to do it.

Gallery 47: ‘I Wish I Was’
Bad Production Records/AWAL (Kobalt)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: download via Bandcamp or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Google Play or Spotify
Gallery 47 online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Wugo: ‘Océan’
Echo Orange (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
24th February 2020
Get it from: download from Amazon Music; stream via Deezer, YouTube, Spotify
Wugo online:
Facebook MySpace Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Google Play Spotify Tidal Amazon Music

The Powdered Earth: ‘Blossom’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
28th February 2020
Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘Hold Your Breath’, Broads & Milly Hurst’s ‘Happisburgh’, Lifeboats’ ‘Hurt’

31 Jan

The Powdered Earth: 'Hold Your Breath'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’

After their gently atmospheric piano overture earlier in the month, it’s proper debut-single time for Gloucester’s The Powdered Earth: time to find out what they’re actually about. Their ethos is apparently one of writing “little fictions… bringing storytelling to the fore” with a backdrop of “minimalist, melodic melancholia”. With a spec like that, and the previous evidence, you’d expect something like a more genteel piano-based Arab Strap.

Well, not quite… or not yet. Initially, ‘Hold Your Breath’ goes for what seems to be a much bigger and non-fictional story – that of the struggle against deforestation in Brazil – but they tell it in an understated way. In Brazil itself, this tale would probably have come through first-hand, via rap consciência or funk carioca, or possibly as some kind of mournful retro-fado. In the United States, it would probably been plunked or punked out over a banjo as a raucous post-Seeger tale of injustice visited on the working man. From their quiet corner of England, The Powdered Earth tell it in their own soft and sober way, trying to stay true to their instinctive sound while letting the story tell itself.

It sounds like a minimalist piano lieder, sung by Shane Young in a small, precise, discreet voice. George Moorey’s bolstering of synths (squashed brass, mechanical choirs) is similarly small and discreet. The lyrics, too, have the simplicity and directness of a pared-down folk song: “there were many of them. / They were gathered near the wood. / We had only handmade tools / and the clothes in which we stood… The ruling party wielded / the means to terrify, / but evil only triumphs / when we good men stand by.”

Listening to this is an odd experience, since it’s both detached and authoritative. You’re pulled into the gaps in the arrangement, into the void where the anger should be raging, as The Powdered Earth clarify that this is an outrage that occurs over and over again. “Miners brought the mercury / that made the river bend,” Shane pronounces. “Bolsonaro’s loggers / will leave nothing to defend.” The title itself is never mentioned; an unspoken warning to be decoded once you move out from the local outrage and start considering it as a small sign of a bigger problem.


 

Broads & Milly Hurst: 'Happinsburgh'

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happinsburgh’

Over on the other side of England, Norwich ambient ramblers Broads have teamed with kindred spirit Milly Hurst for an album of music inspired and partially built from field recordings made throughout the county of Norfolk. Named after a coastal village, ‘Happisburgh’ is a preview of that work; in itself, with its emphasis on widely-spaced reverberant piano, not too different from what The Powdered Earth are doing.

It’s wordless, though – their own sparse Debussian piano part backed up with a little glitch-static and a growing sweet, subliminal agreement of harmonium. The video is a sequence of slow pans across, and sustained shots of Happisburghian scenes: tumbled groyne stones on the sand, the red-banded lighthouse, blue-brown breakers under the wide Norfolk sky; a solitary cliff bench. The second part picks up speed with a rolling piano arpeggio, the sound of feet running through sand and gravel picked up, glitchified and looped. Towards the end, the footstep loop corrupts and stutters, becomes intermittent, vanishes.


 
Probing gently into location and inspiration, like an archaeologist with a fine brush, unlocks some of the messages. Like much of the Norfolk coast, Happisburgh is eroding, dropping fragment by fragment into the sea. It’s shored up by groynes and by its inhabitants’ reluctance to let it go; but has now been abandoned by government, its support withdrawn. It’s a vanishing village which also happens to be the oldest human settlement in Britain, with ancient flint tools in its earth strata, and with the earth’s oldest human footprints outside of Africa once discovered on its beach. Knowing this, the meanings of the sounds come into sombre and beautiful focus – the currents and tides in the shifting piano; the recorded footsteps, once clear as a bell, becoming obscured by time and processing, ultimately disintegrating out of the picture. Our history, even our deep history, vanishes in front of us.

Lifeboats: 'Hurt' (featuring Rena)

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt’ (featuring Rena)

While Lifeboats‘s ‘Hurt’ doesn’t share much musically with either ‘Happisburgh’ or ‘Hold Your Breath’ (being a piece of noisy post-shoegaze guitar pop) it does sort of fit in here by dint of a shared initial and a shared theme of loss, relinquishment and resistance. Lifeboats are a new teaming of Prod Pritchard (main songwriter for Oxfordshire bands Flow and Airstar, as well as being a right-hand man for Owen Paul) and Austrian singer-songwriter Rena (the latter listed as a guest on this single but, so far, very much part of the sound and craft).

‘Hurt’ bustles along on ahead-of-the-beat guitar thrums, not a million miles away from Ride, the Velvets or from Bowie’s “Heroes”. The last, in particular, serves as inspiration, since Rena’s vocal sings out a weathered but hopeful anthem of taking the blows but remaining resilient – “hurt is just a part of living / just like breathing. / We ache before we are – / and fate is beyond all reason; / and then, every season, / above what we control… / This life / we are born to live in, / and the darkness hiding / but the morning’s coming.” She imagines herself propelled, strengthened, along the airwaves, singing “though I’m cracked and shaking, / I will not be broken. / When life is taking its best shot, / say “is that really all you’ve got?” It’s a simple, solipsistic resistance compared to those implied or required in ‘Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Happisburgh’, but it’s there.

 
The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happisburgh’
Humm Recordings, HUMM08 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon; stream from Deezer or Spotify
Broads online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Deezer Instagram Spotify
Milly Hurst online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt (featuring Rena)’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Qobuz or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Lifeboats online:
Soundcloud Spotify

 

January/February 2020 – upcoming London folk/singer-songwriter/experimental gigs – Aga Ujma, Yoni Silver, Yael Roberts, Merlin Nova and Sophie Le Roux at Mortal Oil 2 (24th January) plus Aga Ujma and Nina Harries at PinDrop Session (28th February) and Aga Ujma and The Sages at SOAS (21st February)

22 Jan

Mortal Oil 2, 24th January 2020

More new-ish performance territories; this time down in south London by Nunhead Green, where a somewhat battered but much-loved and independent-spirited shopping local parade currently hosts the Strange Parade venue. The latter is hosting “a night of low-voltage experimental acoustic performance and visual art” at the end of the week, co-curated by Merlin Nova along with filmmaker and photographer Sophie le Roux. This is the second night in the series, which aims to “use no electronic machines (apart from a kettle) and aim to curate acts which have used as little electricity as possible during the processes of their practices.” Tea, whiskey and pom bears are provided as an extra audience incentive; and the last event, back in November, featured (in addition to Merlin) performances by avant-garde double bassist Otto Willberg, all-forms free dancer Sofia Filippou and visual artist Flora Hunt.

Merlin’s been in here several times before as a boundary-hopping singer-instrumentalist, sound artist, poet and monologuist who plunges her imagination and thirst for performance into any opportunity and shapes her art and the situation to fit. Initially a radio broadcaster and soundscaper, she’s the possessor of an unsettling vocal range and a ravenous perspective which she uses for everything from imaginary dronefolk music and the weirdest of weird pop to solo audio dramas…. here’s a selection of what she gets up to.


https://soundcloud.com/user-615512661/to-the-sun

 
Of the two other musicians featured this week, ‘Misfit City’ has previously crossed paths with bass clarinettist/saxophonist Yoni Silver while he was backing Charles Hayward in twisty groove ensemble Timestretch Alarmsong during October last year, and as part of the Ashley Paul Ensemble back in 2017, although he’s also noted for his work with the Hyperion Ensemble. He also sings and plays violin, piano and computer, sometimes simultaneously, so his options for noisemaking are pretty varied. Here’s the A-side of his recent ‘Nethertongue’ cassette, one of his Denis D’Or trio tracks and a solo…



 
As for Aga Ujma, I’ve been hearing about her for a while: a young Polish singer-songwriter and composer also enthralled by English and Indonesian music forms and the connections she makes between them. Though she can quite happily make her way as a singing guitarist with a nice line in Joanna Newson covers (an artist she sometimes resembles, not least in the reedy glory of her vocals) she’s a committed ethnologist who creates art in accordance with her extensive studies, and is as much likely to accompany herself on a quiverful of rarer instruments – the Javanese gamelan-related gender barung xylophone and plucked siter; or the Indonesian sasando, “a gorgeous thirty-two-string, butterfly-winged zither”.




 
The remainder of the evening’s visual art component comes from Yael Roberts, who “hand-prints from found wood to create large scale installations (exploring themes of death, mortality, repetition, and presence.” While she’s got a parallel line in performance art (much of which is captured on video and stills here), her contributions to this particular evening appear to be static art: a set of ceramics made in collaboration with Goldtapped Gallery’s Juliet Fleming.

* * * * * * * *

Aga Ujma + Nina Harries, 28th February 2020I should also mention that Aga Ujma is also playing a couple of other London gigs in February. One is a LaLa Records’ Pin Drop Sessions in Peckham where she’s in a double bill with double bass player singer-songwriter Nina Harries.

As a player, Nina follows in a family tradition (her father Tim Harries has double-bassed prominently for Steeleye Span, Bill Bruford’s Earthworks and Brian Eno, amongst others). That said, her musical development and appetites are very much her own; formed not just by parental example and extensive classical training but by immersion in dance theatre and in work with “story telling star gazing ukulele agit-pop” band The Burning Glass, gonzo bluesman John Fairhurst, folk-punkers Barbarella’s Bang Bang, electro-classicalists the London Electronic Orchestra and Symphonica. Her technique’s impeccable and her songwriter voice wide and unfettered, as happy with the whimsical as the mesmeric.




 
The other concert, a week earlier, is a SOAS music showcase in the centre of town which also features world fusion band The Sages (previously The Seven Sages), featuring Yijia Tu, Peadar Connolly-Davey and Gregor Bauer, and blending music strands from East Asian folk music and Chinese Sizhu with those of western forms of folk and indie rock.

The Sages + Aga Ujma, 21st February 2020

More about them here – “as a diverse cosmopolitan generation growing up under an age of globalization and other social changes, the band aims to explore to break through concepts such as “East” and “West,” cultural identity, and musical “genres” through both original composition and adaption of traditional folk music. Indeed the “The Sages 竹林七贤” is a reference to a group of seven literati, artists and scholars in ancient China who chose to escape mundane and hypocritical secular life and status to live in the remote natural countryside with the companionship of music, poetry, art (and wine) in search of a higher spiritual fulfilment.”

Some examples of what The Sages play are here:

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Mortal Oil 2: Aga Ujma + Yoni Silver + Yael Roberts + Merlin Nova + Sophie Le Roux
Strange Parade, 123 Evelina Road, Nunhead, London, SE15 3HB, England
Friday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

SOAS Concert Series presents:
The Sages + Aga Ujma
Brunei Gallery @ SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 0XG, England
Friday 21st February 2020, 8.00pm
– information here and here

LaLa Records presents
PinDrop Session: Aga Ujma & Nina Harries
One & All Cafe, 28 Peckham Rye, Peckham, London, SE15 4JR, England
Friday 28th February 2020, 7.30pm
– £10 or pay-what-you-can event – information here and here
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – Sophie Onley’s ‘Web Of Lies/Broken Doll’, Secret Treehouse’s ‘At Sunrise’, Jakk Jo’s ‘All Dat I Do’

17 Jan

Sophie Onley: 'Web of Lies/Broken Doll'

Sophie Onley: ‘Web of Lies/Broken Doll’

Here’s two pissed-off, crap-boyfriend shots from Sophie Onley. I certainly wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. It’s not that she’s going to bulldoze you like Nicki Minaj: she’s not into the cartoon superheroine stuff. It’s more that she’s already something of a mistress of rebound.

Again, not in that she’ll promptly plunge into the arms of another unsuitable boy; more that it doesn’t take long for the scales to drop from her eyes, for her to laser in on the inadequacies which she’d previously ignored, and for her to then brush you off in song. She’s fine with addressing her own vulnerability, her own sense of outrage and hurt, but after that she locks it down and knocks it right back.

 
Behind the hi-NRG beat and the offbeat puffy keyboards, ‘Broken Doll’ is classic girl-group stuff. The lyrics are a barrage of quickfire moon-in-June rhyming and indignant complaints – “you’re the puppeteer, / you can pull my strings, / you’ve got to keep control,”; “take me out of play, like a throwaway,”; “you’ve got a heart of stone, / you’ll end up all alone.” But when Sophie delivers her verdict that it’s all “like a fairytale of a princess locked / in a prison tower – / on the final page, there’s no handsome prince, / ‘cos you were just a coward”, there’s that note in her voice; pointedly sour, cutting, entirely justifiable.

Plenty of shallow, lustful men covet the point when a girl becomes a woman. Here’s the flipside they’re scared of: the moment when the gullible eyes staring up at them harden, get wise to them and won’t be fooled any more, and they feel their power shrivel.

 
Trance-pop banger ‘Web of Lies’ comes at it from another angle: Sophie as assertive woman scorned, zooming in over bouncing synth booms, yelling back over being negged and toyed with – “always playing games, no two days the same… you hang round ’til the bitter end, now you tell me you want to be my friend.” As with Broken Doll, her nasal voice has a powerful witchy edge to it, a touch of razor blade under the frills. I think it’ll be a while before people are shouting “yass, queen” at her, but this is a strong start.

Secret Treehouse: 'At Sunrise"

Secret Treehouse: ‘At Sunrise”

With ‘At Sunrise’, Secret Treehouse give us one of those clapalong synthpop anthems that make us feel that that they’re about to lead us out of the nightclub on some kind of procession. Think John Barnes’ You’re the Voice, although Secret Treehouse’s Anja Bere offers a much cooler and airier voice to fly like a banner over the martial beats.

There’s not much more to the lyrics than waking up next to your lover and feeling that you could take on the entire world, but the song still recaptures the immensity and fulfilment of that feeling. “Are we allies?” asks Anja, but doesn’t even take a moment before she affirms it. As simple as anything, and as satisfying as simple.

 

Jakk Jo: 'All Dat I Do'

Jakk Jo: ‘All Dat I Do’

Bloody hell, please spare me from Jakk Jo and his Dirty South rap ramblings on ‘All Dat I Do’ – like some smug drag of a neighbour who spends his life languidly boasting on about how much better his backyard parties are than yours. Singing as if he’s got a personal summer shining down on his crib; while you, you poor bastard, have to spend your time still shivering under the January greys.

Few things are more tedious than someone else showcasing their party, aren’t they? Jakk songspiels in true idling playa style, if everything is spilling into his lap. If you bumped into him at his neighbourhood New Orleans mall and sneaked a look at his shopping list it would probably read something like “swimming pool, models, pussy, booze, and that other guy’s bitch”. God knows that that’s pretty much what this song amounts to. A few buddies – Cre8tive, Kil’lab, 93Bread – pitch up to the mic in order to spurt a few rap bars of their own, but it’s predictable bragging, gym-flexing, bitches-and-bitches-and-ball-wit’-my-crew stuff which flits past like a summer fly.

 
It’s a shame really, since aside from the actual words, this is by no means bad. General Savage’s Miami production is actually rather wonderful, illuminating the whole song in a dreamy, spacious blue-sky light and wrapping several of the vocals in artful Autotune stepping or a cunning heat-haze of backwards distortion. The melodies in the arrangement lick back on themselves, little Caribbean tides, with a perky tickle of steel-drum riff being a particular pleaser. But by cracky, if I could surgically remove the rhyming bores on top, I would.

Yeah, OK, I’m being unfair. There’s more to Jakk than this – a tougher, more urgent side – and I shouldn’t be demanding that he wallows in all of Nawlins’ problems just so that I can get a poverty-porn fix. It’s just that this kind of insubstantial poolside bollocks doesn’t half reduce a man to a mannequin – and under the grey humph of a London January, I’m not good as a party guest and I’m damn grumpy as a neighbour.

Sophie Onley: ‘Web Of Lies/Broken Doll’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming double A-side single
Released: 3rd January 2020

Get it from: download from Apple Music and Amazon; stream via Soundcloud Deezer or Spotify
Sophie Onley online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube

Secret Treehouse: ‘At Sunrise’
self-released (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: download from Apple Music or Amazon Music; stream via Deezer or Spotify
Secret Treehouse online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Jakk Jo: ‘All Dat I Do’
Jakk Jo (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: free download from Bandcamp; stream via Soundcloud
Jakk Jo online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp YouTube
 

January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘The Atlantic’, Simen Lyngroth’s ‘Morning Light’, Marle Thompson’s ‘Expectations’

17 Jan

Three quieter tracks – let’s start soft and get louder…

A couple of decades ago, George Moorey was the multi-instrumental half of the criminally-unknown Gloucester duo Ghosting, who gifted us with a succession of gorgeous and breathy low-key pop singles and a couple of obscure albums before their singer-songwriter half Dan Pierce followed another calling and headed off to County Durham to become a vicar. Since then, George has sometimes resurfaced as a producer, or as a sporadic instrumental illustrator of Gloucester history.

Now, however, he’s re-teamed with singing drummer Shane Young (from late-era Ghosting) to form The Powdered Earth. New songs and stories are promised; but for their curtain-raiser, ‘The Atlantic’ George briefly and wordlessly steps out on his own, sketching out the musical terrain at the break of dawn before coming back to lead us into it properly.


 
What wells out of the speakers at us has many of George’s hallmark Ghosting touches. There’s his sparse but luminous sonic touch (here, it’s mostly carried by softly-couched piano echoed by distant fluting synth, and impelled by deep-rooted waves of drone-bass). There’s that intimated, yet subtly forensic, focus on emotional detail, drawing you in. Pull the ingredients apart and you’ve got a typical piece of soft-edged film soundtracking; but put them together the way George is doing it, and you end up with the prelude to a kind of musical novel, something closer to Peter Chilvers’ intermittent work with Tim Bowness. Unexplicit; eschewing clumsy points; providing clues and pointers to something which only gradually comes together and reveals itself. It’s over in two-and-a-half minutes, brought to a delicate halt in mid-pace. I’m already looking forward to whatever comes next.

More stories are supposed to be coming from Norwegian singer-songwriter Simen Lyngroth‘, whose debut album ‘Take All the Land’ was a set of autumnal reflections and hauntings on jealousy, insecurity and secret trepidations. ‘Morning Light’ is the first song in a forthcoming set which wraps into a fairytale: a sort of Scandinavian slice of magic-realism in which a young man searches for “the spark”.

 
Perhaps it’s just a more mythical and sensitive way of tackling the sophomore album jitters. Certainly, ‘Morning Light’ has all of the indications of being a palate cleanser. It’s as simple as can be. An acoustic guitar, a voice, a frail harmony; the outline of a hometown visit, a return to childhood haunts. A revisiting of old views and landscapes in order to recharge, but at all times carefully skirting stagnation. “It’s what I need. / Lazy walks around the park… / I need this morning light to call my own – / these few moments awake / before I’m breathing in water again.” Another frangible overture.

Dutch singer-songwriter Marle Thomson has already made a mark at home, and while ‘Expectations’ sees her slipping a little deeper into Anglo territories, it’s still an indicator of how accomplished she is already and how little she needs to change. Mellow beat-pop – with its slow hip-hop jams, its crafty drop-outs and its rare-groove echoes – has been an over-populated territory for the past few decades: and refreshing that is a delicate matter of not messing too much with the formula, but polishing and emphasising particular isolated aspects as you build it around your core of song. Marle does just that with ‘Expectations’.

It’s not a game-changer by any means, but that’s part of the point. ‘Expectations’ is about anxieties and FOMO; it’s about the way that it’s not just celebrities who feel compelled to live out their lives broadcasting images, but the way that all of us now do via timelines and digital shopfronts, instagramming and influencing, feeding a general hunger while breeding another helpless hunger all of our own. (“Expectations, like a nail into the wall / I need everything, everything, or nothing at all.”) In response to its theme, it’s musically relaxed, with flickers of both Erykah Badu and early-’80s Steve Winwood – its rhythm ticking along like an old grandfather clock, its guitar line springy like a hair-curl rather than a disco pulse; its synths little warm, edgeless wellings and air-puffs which just happen to be there at precisely the right time.

Marle’s voice is breezy, intimate, unshowy but effortless winding itself around the blue notes needed to emphasis regret (“On my own, off the beaten track, / I didn’t know, I didn’t know – / I fell right through the cracks”) and understated revelation. By song’s end, everything is filtered, resolved and successfully reset, for now: “just ‘cause I’m giving it up, doesn’t mean I give up, no.” Next step coming.


 
The Powdered Earth: ‘The Atlantic’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released: 11th January 2020

Get it from: Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Simen Lyngroth: ‘Morning Light’
Apollon Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: Apollon Records (parent album)
Simen Lyngroth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud YouTube

Marle Thomson: ‘Expectations’
BERT music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 17th January 2020

Get it from: Apple Music, Soundcloud (stream only)
Marle Thompson online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Deezer Spotify <Instagram Amazon Music
 

January/February 2020 – showcases in London with Ragga Gröndal in Earls Court (19th January) and Velveteen Orkestra, Ben Eaton, Hattie Erawan and Matt Ryan in Soho (21st January); plus Blair Coron’s ‘On The Nature Of Things’ quiet evening in London and Glasgow (21st January, 7th February) with Zoë Bestel, Anin Rose, Tom Blankenberg, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach

14 Jan

A set of upcoming showcases happening at opposite corners of the country.

 
Ragga Gröndal’s currently a little-known name over here. In Iceland, though, she’s a much bigger deal – hailed as one of the country’s most remarkable singers. Performing in both Icelandic and English, she spans folk, pop and classical elements: less of an upsetter and groundbreaker, perhaps, than most of the Icelandic musicians who make the crossing over to Britain, but as the expounder of a kind of refined pop purity that’s actually a broad umbrella for a rich blend of other musical aspects, she does well. Here’s the blurb:

“The sound of Ragga Gröndal’s music is warm, adventurous and modern, yet accessible for curious music-lovers. (She) has worked with the same musicians for a decade and together they have toured all over Europe and created many beautiful and unforgettable moments. The band consists of musicians who are all independent artists in their own right; Guðmundur Pétursson (guitar), her brother Haukur Gröndal (woodwind player) and Claudio Spieler (percussion)… Each and every concert becomes a unique journey between the musicians, the audience and the performance space.”

For this special one-off show in London on the 19th, Ragga’s just bringing Guðmundur Pétursson: a musician whose work stretches from pop to his own classical guitar concertos, he’s an ideal and flexible foil.



 
* * * * * * * *

There’s a Success Express quadruple bill at Zebranos in Soho on the 21st, part of a new fortnightly showcase scheme. It’s all free to get in, but you pay Soho prices for your drinks and they suggest you book ahead for a table if you want to get in and sit down.

The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Easton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan, 21st January 2020As leader of The Velveteen Orkestra, Dan Shears dresses his dramatic sky-high vocals and rockabilly guitar in a wagon circle of string trio, piano and drums; sometimes evoking the country pop of Del Shannon or Dion, sometimes a Russian tundra shimmer, sometimes Muse-ian histrionics. Seasoned Aussie guitarist-singer-songwriter Ben Eaton is as smooth and gritty and no-nonsense as a well-maintained backroad: he’s a constantly busy professional with weddings, corporate events and similar cover-fests under his belt along with the gigs stuffed with originals, but don’t let that put you off too much. He’s a witty performance livewire who’s more than capable of transcending any workaday made-to-measure gig as well as pulling off blues-funk shows of his own.



 

Two more singer-songwriters are on the bill. Hattie Erawan – until recently known as Hattie Marsh – is Norfolk-born, has mingled Thai and English heritage and a forbidding expression, and also has about five years of playing London acoustica mainstays like the Bedford and St Pancras Old Church. She’s got Joni Mitchell, Nirvana, and Sheila Chandra down as influences: the outcome is bare, clear modern songs with a hard electric edge, sung with a hint of storms and in a tone like a steel statue. Sessioneer/producer Matt Ryan is embarking, or perhaps reembarking, on a solo career. His lone available track, a demo for The Last Time, is a polished bit of white R’n’B: while it’s a tad conservative and stripped-back in its current state, emotionally it’s a good deal more convincing than much of what reaches the charts. Worth keeping an eye on.

 

* * * * * * * *

'On The Nature Of Things' - 21st January and 7th February 2020Although it does have a lower-income ticket option, another upcoming showcase – ‘On The Nature Of Things’ – isn’t free; but, to be fair, it’s less likely to cover its expenses with beer money and upmarket bar food. Its aims are to be “quiet… introspective… an intimate evening of music. Immerse yourself as we relish in the more subdued side of music for one night through folk song, piano music, ambience/electronic and some modern classical. It is a space to listen. Expect fairy lights, darkness, and music to make you sit in awe, cry or sleep.

“‘On The Nature Of Things’, which this event is named after, is the debut album by Glasgow based musician and composer Blair Coron, who shall be hosting this event and is currently touring the UK with it. His intention is to create enchanting atmospheres allows for the audience to listen to the performers and to set course for introspection and meditation.”

Blair’s own work blurs around classical and near-ambient ideas for piano, acoustic guitar and string ensemble. He describes the album as “a delicate exploration of the intricacy and fragility of life, nature and the surrounding world. It is love…mortality…the sublime…a personal mantra…every thing.” So far, on spec, typically New Age-y and easily consumable; but he also mixes in poetry, chamber chorale, mandolins, birdsong and folksongs and (somewhere) a Nintendo handheld games console. If you’re worried that his deliberate gentleness places him on the wrong side of tentative, don’t. The results are edgeless and delicate, deliberately softened and frangible; but they have their own dainty logic and an openness which is rare. Streets away from the guarded blandness of much of the post-classical wash.




 
He’s been doing these shows for about a year now (from Edinburgh to Yorkshire to Inverness and Manchester) and I’ve not heard about them before this; but there are currently two OTNOT shows happening soon, both featuring Blair and ukulele-folkster Zoë Bestel. If you read that last phrase and thought cutesy versions of old pop and indie hits, think again. Zoë’s of that small number of people who turn the uke into a kind of perpendicular harp, using it to underpin a gorgeous art-pop folk soprano and a series of bewitching small-place songs. The kind of song and delivery that kills casual chat and has a roomful of people rapt and focussed entirely on what they’re seeing and hearing.

 
The London show – on the same night as Success Express – also features a couple of German musicians. Pianist, composer and sound designer Tom Blankenberg (who runs the Convoi Studios in Düsseldorf) works in a similar post-classical vein to Blair, although a more austere one. In recent years, he became interested in writing for solo piano: the result was his debut album ‘Atermus’, released last year and containing thirteen tracks in which strangely tender romantic melodies are concealed in minimalist sparseness, as if Bill Evans were communing with Arvo Pärt. In contrast, Anin Rose creates gospel-infused piano pop – not at the brassy end of either, but at the silky reverberant intersection of both. On record, a subtle reverb skitters almost imperceptibly around her songs and harmonies chase the main vocal like kissing clouds: live, I’m guessing that she does it all by presence.

 
The Glasgow show – in early February – features a pair of Scottish folk musicians, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach. A fiddler and pianist respectively, they’re rooted in tradition but immersed in present impression, “interested in making music filled with spontaneity, sensitivity and freedom. Inspiration comes from their pasts and surroundings, feeding music that’s rooted in tradition, whilst stretching it’s possibilities through improvisation and imagination.” Their latest release, last summer’s ‘Air Iomall’, was inspired by a trip around the currently uninhabited Shiant Isles off Scotland’s west coast, and their instrumental responses to the history that hangs around the places.


 
I’m hoping that Blair continues with these shows: they have a potential for some serious beauty. Previous evenings have included appearances by fellow Glaswegian post-chamber composer Richard Luke, piano improviser Carla Sayer and harpist Esther Smith; jazz/soul/gospel harmony duo Canter Semper; The Silver Reserve (a.k.a classical guitarist/looper Matthew Sturgess, who “plays delicate, sparse music (and) songs about out-of-body experiences, monogamy, small-town community Facebook pages and much more”; alt.folker Thomas Matthew Bower as Thomas & The Empty Orchestra; Jamie Rob’s post-everything project Poür Me, ambient song trio Luthia and drift band Neuro Trash; plus a further spray of diverse singer-songwriters in the shape of Simon Herron, Leanne Smith, Kate Dempsey, Mathilde Fongen, Hollie “Haes” Arnold, Leanne Body and Megan Dixon Hood. There’s a whole softened and glorious world opening up here.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Sunday Hive Sessions with Buzz Music Group presents:
Ragga Gröndal
The Troubadour, 263-267 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court, London, SW5 9JA, England
Sunday 19th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Success Express Music presents:
The Velveteen Orkestra + Ben Eaton + Hattie Erawan + Matt Ryan
Zebrano Bars, 18 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DS, England
Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm
– free event – information here and here

‘On The Nature Of Things’:

  • SET (SET Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England – Tuesday 21st January 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Anin Rose + Zoë Bestel + Tom Blankenberg) – information here, here and here
  • Old Trinity College, 35 Lynedoch Street, Glasgow, G3 6AA, Scotland – Friday 7th February 2020, 7.00pm (Blair Coron + Zoë Bestel + Charlie Grey & Joseph Peach ) – information here and here

 

January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).

“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).

“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”



 
Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

* * * * * * * *

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
* * * * * * * *

Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
* * * * * * * *

All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

* * * * * * * *
Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

December 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Christmas music as Daylight Music 2019 autumn season concludes with Tomorrow’s Warriors Soon Come Big Band and Junior Band and Loucin Moskofian (7th) and a Lost Map party with Pictish Trail, Callum Easter, Rozi Plain and Glasgow Dreamers (14th); plus a follow-up Lost Map show with Pictish, Callum, Savage Mansion and Clémentine March (15th)

30 Nov

Daylight Music 10, 2019

As fits Daylight Music’s family-and-all ethos, the final two dates in their autumn 2019 season are Christmassy ones.

Daylight Music 325: Tomorrow’s Warriors Soon Come Big Band present ‘The Nutcracker’ + Junior Band + Loucin Moskofian, 7th December 2019The 7th December gig is a burst of Christmas jazz from the extended Tomorrow’s Warriors family, with one of their newer ensembles, the Soon Come Big Band, taking on a jazz version of ‘The Nutcracker’(originally reworked from Tchaikovsky’s original in 1960 by classic partners-in-big-bandery Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn). The score includes the transformation of The Sugar Plum Fairy into Sugar Rum Cherry and that of the Dance of the Reed Pipes into Toot Toot Tootie Toot.

Further info from the National Museum of American History:

“In his original liner notes for the Ellington-Strayhorn Nutcracker Suite, record producer Irving Townsend included the fantastic fiction that Ellington met Tchaikovsky while Ellington’s orchestra was performing at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. Knowing that the Russian died in 1893, a full six years before the American was born, this meeting never could have happened in the literal sense. However, listening to the jazzed-up Nutcracker, one could imagine the work as a meeting place for the three great composers, separated by oceans and decades, but communicating through art.

“Ellington and Strayhorn did not simply place jazz rhythms over Tchaikovsky’s music. Instead, they picked up the notes, recast the beats, communed with the themes, and recreated the work, turning it into something that was at once completely their own and completely Tchaikovsky’s. In doing so, they showed that while music may be the universal language, it is spoken with many accents (and therein lies the fun).”


 
Also on hand is the Junior Band, a quintet of eleven-to-fifteen year olds taken from the youngest TW performer set Junior Warriors; plus TW’s Female Frontline frontwoman Loucin Moskofian, a young jazz/neo-soul/R&B singer in the classic mould who’s currently creating original work on marginalisation, identity and oppression.

 

Daylight Music 326: Lost Map presents ‘Yuletide In A Scotch Sitting Room’(featuring Pictish Trail + Callum Easter + Rozi Plain + Glasgow Dreamers), 14th December 2019The following week, on the 14th, the form-shifting/try-anything Scottish singer-songwriter and Lost Map label boss Johnny Lynch – a.k.a. Pictish Trail – heads down from the isle of Eigg bringing a bunch of his labelmates with him for their ‘Yuletide In A Scotch Sitting Room’ concert. “Expect a veritable clootie-dumpling of heart-warming wonky-pop, with the occasional cover of an Ivor Cutler song. The Union Chapel will be awash with Scottish voices, people pretending to be Scottish, and probably your Gran. (Everyone’s got a Scottish Gran, right?).” For what it’s worth, they pulled off something similar at Daylight Music the year before last…



 

Besides Pictish Trail, party confirmees so far are Edinburgh-based “otherworldly rhythm-and-blues” singer-songwriter, instrument-sound-warper and former Stagger Rat Callum Easter and Winchester alt-folkie/This Is The Kit member Rozi Plain. Knocking around at the end of the bill are Glasgow Dreamers, who are, as yet, unidentified. Last-minute Lost Map signing? Impromptu Lost Map supergroup? No-one’s saying.



 
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The day after the Daylight closer, Callum and Johnny (the latter as the “micro edition” of Pictish Trail) are staying in London and throwing a “whole afternoon-into-evening” follow-up concert at the Lexington. Also playing are a couple of the more recent-years Lost Map signings.

Lost Map at The Lexington, London (featuring Pictish Trail + Callum Easter + Savage Mansion + Clémentine March + others t.b.c.), 15th December 2019

Glasgow indie rockers Savage Mansion are led by singer-guitarist/onetime Poor Things player Craig Angus and specialise in drawling shack songs and literary dada in a Pavement vein. The work of transplanted Frenchwoman Clémentine March fuses Anglo-indie and noise rock with Mediterranean pop melodics and film editor sensibilities, and has led her from her former band Water Babies to a host of projects including floating membership of woodwose-y post-punk performance artists Snapped Ankles and, more recently, art pop choir HAHA Sounds Collective.



 
More Lost Map extended family members look set to join in at the Lexington, so watch that space…

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Dates:

Daylight Music 325: Tomorrow’s Warriors Soon Come Big Band present ‘The Nutcracker’ + Junior Band + Loucin Moskofian
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 7th December 2019, 12.00pm
– free event (with suggested £5.00 donation) – information here and here

Daylight Music 326: Lost Map presents ‘Yuletide In A Scotch Sitting Room’(featuring Pictish Trail + Callum Easter + Rozi Plain + Glasgow Dreamers)
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 14th December 2019, 12.00pm
– free event (with suggested £5.00 donation) – information here and here

Lost Map at The Lexington, London (featuring Pictish Trail + Callum Easter + Savage Mansion + Clémentine March + others t.b.c.)
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 15th December 2019, 4.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

November 2019 – three Tuesdays of (mostly) femmetronica in London – Alice Hubble, Blick Trio and Merlin Nova (5th November), Carla dal Forno and Cucina Povera (12th November), Rachel K. Collier (19th November)

2 Nov

Following (and overlapping) the recent/current set of female poptronic gigs in London (with Caroline Polachek, Imogen Heap, Yeule and others), here are some more.

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Alice Hubble + Blick Trio + Merlin Nova, 5th November 2019

Alice Hubble (best known as half of tweetronic duo Arthur & Martha) has been striking out on her own this year and is playing at Servant Jazz Quarters on the 5th. Her debut album ‘Polarlichter’, driven by iPad workings on long journeys and transformed at home via Mellotrons and analogue synths, apparently stems from wistful envisionings of faraway places (including Ruby Falls in Chatanooga, USA, Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and Dubai’s Atlantis Palm hotel) plus “a desire to work on a project without constraints, to move away from the traditional song writing process and to experiment with the form. Inspired by the ’70s recordings by Tangerine Dream, Ashra and even Mike Oldfield, Alice wanted to take a more delicate approach; a distinctly feminine take on (an) often pompous ’70s progressive synth sound. Other inspirations include Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Lee Hazlewood’s Swedish recordings and 80’s American synth pop band The Book of Love.”

A good set of reference points, although if you are going to snark about the pomposity of your male predecessors it’s best if you’ve built something startlingly different. Much of Alice’s work still cleaves rather closely to those familiar silvery Germanic/kosmische synth tropes, the cautiousness of several generations of post-Tangerine Dream acolytes, albeit with twists of post-punk melancholy and Stereolab-ilk avant-pop.

As for the femininity, it’s present mostly in the preoccupations of Alice’s lyrics, such as the stern reflections on male gaze and pedestal-placing on ‘Goddess’ (“a man idolising a woman to the point that he doesn’t see her as a person. His ‘love’ is all consuming and the focus of his affection is seen merely as an object. As a result he consumes her and takes from her until she has little left, but thankfully she finds the inner strength to walk away.”). All well and good to state; but, given that the song’s mostly concerned with climbing inside its misguided protagonist in order to critique him from within, leaving the woman in question almost as enigmatic, idealised and unexamined as he did, I’m not altogether convinced. But perhaps I’m snarking now – either way, I can’t help but feel that there’s better to come. Alice has a quiet, determined voice: maybe, at the gig, we’ll find out what else it has to say.


 
Support comes in two parts, one being from jazztronic array Blick Trio, made up of veteran polymathic brass-and-wind-player Robin Blick (from the sprawling Blick/Blake musical dynasty that also includes Mediaeval Baebes’ Katherine Blake), drummer Andrew Moran (who’s put in time in groups including The Violets and Not Cool) and bass player/synth programmer James Weaver (who already plays with Robin in Gyratory System). Prior to Gyratory System, Robin was also in Blowpipe; with both these and the Trio, he’s been building jazz/clubtronic/kosmiche meldings for a good couple of decades. The Trio, however, lean more towards “post-punk rhythms and straight jazz melodies” than the club beats and electrofuzz racket of the previous acts; with Robin’s musicality and wide genre-savviness in particular calling up aural and harmonic/melodic imagery from riffling snake-charmer music to pithead brass band melancholia.


 
The other support act is Merlin Nova, who vigorously straddles the space between musician and sound artist. Too tuneful to work consistently in the latter mode, and too flat-out sonically ambitious and diverse to be restrained by the former, she instead works both of them to the bone. She creates, records and broadcasts whatever comes to her mind, whether it’s surreal foley-bolstered persona narratives, soundscaped poetry or unorthodox fragmented songs across a vocal range from femme-baritone to skyscraping whistle register.

Merlin’s most recent pair of Soundcloud offerings illustrate her restlessness. Just Calling is one of her most straightforward works (a vocal and reverbscape’d love-song of faith, degrees of separation, faith and independence), while To The Sun is a drone-strings-and-vocalise solar prayer half an hour long, equal parts Alquimia and Sofia Gubaidulina. There’s plenty more to find there, evidence of an ambitious sound creator who’s tapping at the heels of multiple precursors… Ursula Dudziak, Cathy Berberian, outer-limits Björk, Maja Ratkje…

 
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Carla Dal Forno + Cucina Povera, 12th November 2019On the 12th, left-field synthpop writer Carla Dal Forno comes to Electrowerks trailing her newest album ‘Look Sharp’, in which “the small-town dreams and inertia that preoccupied (her) first album have dissolved into the chaotic city, its shifting identities, far-flung surroundings and blank faces”, thanks to her wanderings from her Melbourne origins to London via Berlin, telling “the story of this life in flux, longing for intimacy, falling short and embracing the unfamiliar.”

Sonically it’s frowning post-punk basslines and pearly sheens around subtle hollows; occasional touches of plainsong; arrangements stroked into shape by psychedelic-via-radiophonic synthesizer bends, swoops and flutters – a big step up from the queasy lo-fi wobble of her debut. As with Alice Hubble, Carla rarely changes tone vocally, etching momentary stories of subtle revenges, covert assignations and bleak reflectiveness with the same abbreviated unruffled whispercroon; delivering songs with the crisp, faux-reticent undertones and hardnosed observation of a finishing-school ace who’s opted to spend the rest of her life speaking softly but carrying a sharp hatpin. Simultaneously minimalist and expansive, sensual and austere, revealing and forbidding, the songs of ‘Look Sharp’ are measured diary entries enclosed in dove-grey leather, giving away little but hinting at much more. It’s as if one of the early versions of the Cure had agreed to back Jean Rhys during a venture into confessional songcraft, with Delia Derbyshire adding sonic filigrees.


 
The whole record sounds attractively antiquated. Not in terms of its harking back to early ‘80s proto-Goth, but in the way it feels as if it’s been written for (and in) a monochrome London of the 1930s: sparser crowds, the hiss of steam trains and the rattle of heels in empty housing courts. In fact, ‘Look Sharp’ functions best when Carla relinquishes the more obvious darkwave thrumbles, loses the bass and trusts to her electrophonic textures and spaces. This lends the instrumentals a touch of 5am light, an air of sneaking out into an unfamiliar town while it’s still slumbering unguarded, with a dream-frown shadowing its features. For songs such as Don’t Follow Me (with its deepening undertone of sexual threat), it allows a more sophisticated atmosphere to build, sound becoming character in the way that scenery and lighting do in film.


 
In support, there’s electronicist, live-looper and spatial explorer Maria Rossi – a.k.a Cucina Povera. As anyone who’s covered Maria before will tell you, “cucina povera” translates as “poor kitchen” – like “poor theatre”, a way of making the most of minimal ingredients and lean times: indeed, of making a virtue of the enforced simplicity, to the point of deliberately choosing it. Maria’s most recent project – ‘Zoom’, released back in January – had her strip back her already-minimal gear choices to just voice and loop pedal plus the digital recorder which gave the record its name: bar the very occasional bit of huffed or clinked bottlework, or synth bloop, that was it.

Last year’s ‘Hilja’ album applied the Cucina Povera methodology to a gaseous, beatless, haunting form of ambient art pop. It was full of folk-ghosts in the machine, bringing along hints of the ecclesiastic, of children’s songs and of traditional song fragments, much of it pillowed on vaporous keyboard textures and meticulous arrangements. In contrast, the Zoom pieces were recorded in “intimate spaces full of acoustic or ideological intrigue” and were a set of impromptu, improvised rituals-for-their-own-sake. Sometimes gabbled, frequently hymnal and monastic, blurring between established language and glossolalia, they build on the mysteriousness of ‘Hilja’ while venturing into more musically naked areas, taking from the previous album’s most cut-down moments without falling back on its cloudy synth-padded comforts or its pleasing banks of harmony.

Whether these pieces can be transported, translated and performed afresh in other locations is not so clear. Perhaps, for Electrowerks, Maria will improvise a new set in honour of the Slimelight’s fallen ghosts.



 
Also stirred into the evening’s menu will be a DJ set from darker techno/DIY/industrial specialist Kenny White of the Low Company record store.

 
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At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a splash of raucous female colour. Riding the momentum from the release of her debut album last month (if you’re a budding remixer or mash-upper, Bandcamp has it complete with sample and stem packs), Rachel K. Collier plays the Grand in Highbury in mid-November, with live percussion and interactive visuals augmenting her storm of sequencers, keyboards and Abletoning. Her house-inspired, undulating electronic club pop has been evolving over six years or so now, including bold intrusions into the world of adverts, collaborations with garage/house stars Wookie, Mat Zo and Ray Foxx, and more recently her current fearless-sounding solo work.

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

It’s a powerfully assured and complete pop sound, fusing full dancefloor momentum with righteous girl-power; although one that’s been achieved in the face of considerable bullying, scorn and condescension along the way from male musicians. (If the fuck-you beat and withering dismissal in her Dinosaur single is anything to go by. You can’t say that she didn’t get her own back. Success is the best revenge.)




 
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Dates:

Parallel Lines presents:
Alice Hubble + Blick Trio & Merlin Nova
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Upset The Rhythm presents:
Carla dal Forno + Cucina Povera
Electrowerkz @ The Islington Metal Works, 1st Floor, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Rachel K Collier
The Grace, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Tuesday 19th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

November 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Janushoved’s fifth anniversary party with Rosen & Spyddet, Internazionale, Yuri and others (1st November); Orlando Harrison goes Orwellian at the Horse Hospital with Tone Generator, Imperial Leather and David Rage (1st November); Paper Dollhouse, Daniel O’Sullivan, Flowers At Night and DJ King Knut at New River Studios (2nd November)

29 Oct

Janushoved 5 Year Anniversary, 1st November 2019Enigmatically romantic Copenhagen label Janushoved are throwing a fifth anniversary party in London at the start of November. Defining a Janushoved release isn’t a precise art – you can throw around the usual reductive tags like “dream pop”, “dance music” and “ambient”, but establishing a Janushoved sound and feel is more of a textural thing. Music released on the label stretches beyond the usual complacencies, suggesting at least one extra dimension. A Januhoved piece is more like enchantment heard around a grey door; intimate and intimatory, already huge yet incrementally growing, suggesting huge technicolour cloudscapes and bioluminescent pagodas.

Janushoved label curator Mikkel Valentin Dunkerley will be playing a strong role in the show. Unsurprising, since many Janushoved artists are him in some form or another, with or without assorted collaborators. Certainly he’s bringing the expansive, heroic ’80s electronic crownings of Rosen & Spyddet (also featuring mysterious sidekick P.E.) and will be returning for a second go onstage with the incandescent, sighing minimalism of his solo project Internazionale. His Shell Fantasy bandmate Susanne Mouritsen will also step up with the plaintive trance/found sound gush of her own work as Yuri. Various DJs should be playing but are yet to be announced: if nothing else, the three Janushovedians will probably be stepping up to the decks themselves and presenting various influences and inspirations.


 
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On the same evening, you’ve also got the opportunity to go to something much more abrasive, as the Horse Hospital plays host to an evening of assorted noise and audio mysteries. It’s centred around the ‘Tape 313‘ project by Orlando Harrison (who plays keyboards for Alabama 3 under the alias of “The Spirit”, has touched on work with Coil, Red Crayola, the Amal Gamal Ensemble, Dr Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses, Guapo, and The Daughters of God and who puts out strange semi-occult radiophonic collages of music, found speech and rants on Resonance 104.4 FM as ‘The Wrong Show’). Best to let the press release inform… or disinform:

 
Orlando Harrison, 1st November 2019“Reworkings of long thought lost audio tapes obtained on the premises of Senate House, ‘Tape 313’ interrogates two dissident voices, uncovering hidden meaning and deciphering coded messages.

“Stammheim Prison, 1975 — Gudrun Ensslin outlines the political position of the Red Army Faction, eighteen months before her alleged suicide, her voice a ghost in the machinery of the German state. The perpetual revolution of helicopter rotors over the prison house echo the grinding of the wheels of justice below, and the relentless rotation of the swastika at its heart.

“Trafalgar Square, 1956 — Nye Bevan delivers a speech attacking Sir Antony Eden’s Conservative government following the seizure of the Suez Canal. Twenty thousand people heard Bevan speak, after which a crowd marched on Downing Street. Harrison’s deconstructions transform Bevan’s words into air-borne weapons, soaring over the equestrian bronzes of Nelson’s Column, drowning out the death rattle of the British Empire.”

Contributing to the evening alongside Orlando are various people from around the Wannamarchi Club disorganisation (in their own words, “a multinational cabal centred around the labels Broken Britain Cassettes and NKT encompassing events, radio shows and visual art activities.”) Making assorted sounds and projecting visual are assorted industrialists and other noisemakers – S.P.K. visualiser and synth player Dominic Guerin in his Tone Generator persona; Imperial Leather (industrial tapesmiths setting growling toolwork against cutup echoes of rabble-rousing speeches – he/she/they seem to have a particular fascination with Brexit dyspepsia); and David Rage. It’s tricky to track down much of anything about what anybody’s doing, some of them may be working together and some of them might be employing a single-use-then-throw-away name for the evening; but here’s a bit of Orlando and a scrap of Leather.

 
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Orlando’s Dr Miasma colleague Daniel O’Sullivan has been pretty active recently, gigging his ‘Folly’ album and his Dream Lyon Ensemble around London and Europe. The night after Orlando’s gig, you’ll find him reviving his occasional, unorthodox performance piece ‘The Honourable Daines Barrington’ – trumpeted as “an ecstatic sound and movement ritual heralding the inner succession of the hypostasis and a channeling of musics from the vegetable kingdom… based on the cryptographic responses to the letters of eighteenth century parson-naturalist Gilbert White (but which he’s also revealed, in an M Magazine interview a couple of years ago), as being about “an atavistic vegetable man” and involving “a very, very awkward costume that’s very difficult to see and perform in.” Here’s just under a minute of him doing it in Moscow back in 2016…


 
Paper Dollhouse + Daniel O’Sullivan + Flowers At Night + DJ King Knut, 2nd November 2019
This Daines Barrington revival is part of a similarly unorthodox evening, centred on the release of ‘The Walled Garden’, the brand new album by Suffolk audio-visual experimental duo and “radioactive ambient pop” creators Paper Dollhouse. Daniel will be using the same garden-themed stage set which PD have assembled for this show, upon which they’re promising a “special, spectral, 3D performance” of “the follow up to 2018’s neon-lit ambient pop album ‘The Sky Looks Different Here’, and its sister release ‘All The Colours Align’, to form the final part of a triptych set across the plains of rural Suffolk and London. Inspired by surrounding nature, domestic routine, Maggi Payne and Henning Christiansen’s ‘The Executioner’, the release was recorded on a portable twenty-four track recorder and holds up a mirror to autumn the dawn and early hours, an exploration of synthesiser experiments, field recordings and snapshots of conversations that quietly define areas of personal growth, patience, curiosity, understanding and freedom… Where the group’s previous album explored an audio journey from the rain-soaked streets of East London out to the now fast eroding landscapes of Suffolk, The Walled Garden captures the after-hours ambience that falls across Astrud’s childhood surroundings within the ancient London borough of Southwark, an area with a rich but hidden music landscape home to the outer edges explorations of Coil and Derek Jarman. While field recordings from Nina’s studio in the rural yet equally meditative oceanside pepper the long-form synth transitions and blurred recollections of conversations and early morning reflections.”


 
Irish looper/layerer Juno Cheetal – a.k.a. Flowers At Night – will also be performing her own audio-visual set, droning away on vintage analogue and digital synthesizer, pulling in rural and urban field recordings, and adding live drums, vocal harmonisations and autoharp. The visual aspects are drawn from her Sherkin Island homeland, near Cork – possessor of a wide variety of spectacular shapings from woodlands to sea views.


 
The evening’s further expanded by Yorkshire sound collageist Lisa Lavery, who’ll be presenting her soundwork ‘The Valley’ (inspired by the changing social landscape and preoccupations of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s “made up of ‘sounds of the salon’ put through a harsh bleaching process… obsessed with the sheer number of salons in the valley and how that reflects the work opportunities available to women there and their existence as a safe space for women,” and realised with various salon accoutrements – hairdryers, clippers, hair foils and polystyrene wig heads. (Originally commissioned by the Calderdale branch of Yorkshire Sound Women Network – well worth checking out if you’re a sounds-and-noise girl of any age, and you want some active support – she’ll also be playing it as part of YSWN’s Hebden Bridge concert on 5th November.)

Finally, Soho radio show producer and haunted-beatsman King Knut (Knut Jonas Sellevold) will be offering up DJ sets containing “an instinctive, psychedelic mix of private press rarities, industrial electronic work, rock, unearthed 70s library music, Eastern-European folk, Algerian pop, jazz and hip hop” aiming for “a MoonDome garden ambience”


 
(UPDATE – it seems that Daniel O’Sullivan has in fact now cancelled, but everyone else is still playing…)

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Dates:

Janushoved presents:
Janushoved 5 Year Anniversary (featuring Rosen & Spyddet + Internazionale + Yuri + DJs t.b.c.)
The Glove That Fits, 179 Morning Lane, Hackney, London, E9 6LH, England
Friday 1st November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here

Broken Britain Cassettes & Wannamarchi.Club present:
Orlando Harrison: Tape 313 Launch
The Horse HospitalThe Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Friday 1st November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Paper Dollhouse + Daniel O’Sullivan + Flowers At Night + DJ King Knut
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Saturday 2nd November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here