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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  

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