TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 19, 31st January 2019)
Welcome to Edition 19 of Trust The Doc. There is plenty to get your teeth into in this edition with so much intriguing new music coming from all directions genre-wise. Accordingly after a brief lull in Edition 18 all the usual sections return plus one or two additional sub-sections under the Pop Scene heading and some news about live events I am involved in both as a promoter and as an artist. Happy Reading Everyone. #NewMusicNewThinking
✦ VANISHING POINT: Rothko’s farewell gig with ESF & Handäoline
✦ VANISHING POINT FESTIVAL: Bank Holiday Monday mayhem at Ivy House
✦ MARIUS BARANAUSKAS: Haunting Harmony from Lithuania
✦ WISLA SKARBOW: Electronic Music with pop sensibilities from Poland
✦ NORBERTO VALDES ALPIZAR: Peru’s persistent classicist hits form
✦ CATERINA BARBIERI: The enigmatic sounds of machines and music
✦ BRENDAN WALSH & HIS GASTRIC BAND: Dreamy Jazz & Cool Playing
✦ VARDAN HOVANISSIEN & EMRE GÜLTIKEN: Unique Sounds Abound
✦ BLACK MIRROR: More sensitive songwriting from Tenerife’s finest
✦ ELSA ÅBORG: Swedish Folk and Pop from talented singer-songwriter
✦ OLY MOOSIC: Outstanding Pop from Washington State full of rich flavas
✦ THE CHEAP THRILLS: Long-lasting Liverpudlian legacy of great tunes
✦ ZARAH: Soulful and dexterous vocals, sweet harmonies & infectious R’n’B
✦ SMK FT BLUEY: Thoughtful Hip Hop & Urban Pop sensibilities
✦ HOLLIE FINDLAY: 15 years old and writing emotionally stirring songs
✦ JOHN ADAMS: Platinum-voiced Cardiff singer-songwriter on form
✦ RYD: Falsetto dreaminess and hard-to-classify harmony-soaked Pop
✦ A MOTION FOR CONTROL: Alternative Rock writer collaborates with Cholly
✦ SPOTLIGHTKIDTRACKS Psychedelic Dream Pop from new name
✦ INTERIOR MOON: Comparisons with Alabama Shakes, Tom Verlaine etc.
✦ TWIST HELIX: Newcastle’s Electronic Alt Rockers with another belter
✦ FAODAIL: More evocative ambient electronica from enigmatic young Scot
There is one week left before the legendary Alternative Music act Rothko (https://soundcloud.com/user-646013394) play their last ever gig. So I am deeply honoured that they have chosen my Vanishing Point @ The Ivy House for that sad but exciting occasion. They will be supported by my Electronic Art Pop & Genre Mashing duo [fronted by Dilara], Environmental Sound Foundation (https://soundcloud.com/e-s-foundation) and Freya & Steve Hellier’s unique historically inspired experimental accordion and electronics project Handäoline (http://www.improvisersnetwork.co.uk/uk/uk-miscellaneous-the-culling/item/470-linear-obsessiaonal-london-dec-9th). It should be a great night and we are only charging £4 (advance) or £5 (door) so to be sure you don’t miss out, get your tickets from https://demerararecords.com/vanishing-point.
The Ivy House, the UK’s only communally owned bar and music venue, is at 40 Stuart Road, Nunhead, London S15 3BE and it is a beautiful venue with a chilled tables and chairs atmosphere plus a great range of drinks and food served at the bar. The 484 and 343 buses stop at the bottom of Stuart Road (about 20 yards from the venue) and it is walkable from Nunhead, Peckham Rye, Honor Oak or Brockley Rail Stations.
VANISHING POINT FESTIVAL: PLANS IN MOTION
… and while we are on the subject of the Ivy House and our relationship with that fine venue, I can reveal that we are in talks about a one-day Vanishing Point Festival at the Ivy House on a bank holiday Monday which is likely therefore to be late August. The plan is for doors to open at 2PM and to have eight acts on the main stage with a further seven playing smaller scale sets on an area to the side of the stage. More news on that soon.
CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL, LEFTFIELD & UNCLASSIFIED
Late Junction played some interesting composers’ works this month. One was the Lithuanian classical and electroacoustic composer Marius Baranauskas (https://soundcloud.com/marius-baranauskas-104080403) whose Delta Cephei was performed by Povilas Jacunksus and Tomas Kulikauskus and proved to be an intense journey through sparse sounds and haunting harmony full of menacing glissandi and appealing dissonances.
A similar description applies to the extraordinary Three Visions After Tagore except this time it is high ghostly voices, wavering repetitions and contrasts between the intensity of the voices and the relative calm of the ambience in between and the deeper quieter voices. Baranauskas is an exciting discovery and I look forward to getting to know more of his repertoire.
The other was the Polish composer and Sound Artist Wisla Skarbow (aka Skarby) (https://soundcloud.com/skarby/sets/wisla-skarbow-1) whose new work Warszawa is a pulsating electronic piece with a beat straight out of the Kraftwerk library (well not literally obviously!) accompanying vaguely filmic synth melody, vocal samples and a robust electro-ostinato figure. It starts off quite stark but eventually becomes almost poppy. However the voices that interrupt the flow and take it off into a mid-section are unusual and deliberately low in the mix. The ostinato figure builds in volume and dominance before settling back down as synth melody once again rises to the fore. At seven minutes long it is a little epic piece.
Caterina Barbieri (https://soundcloud.com/caterinabarbieri) is a Berlin-based Italian composer who experiments with machine sounds [which, I guess, puts her music in a similar ballpark to my contemporary classical work]. On Sogno Che Suona, the track picked out by Late Junction, the sound is sparse and compelling as it builds through a clever configuration of sounds and loose rhythms through which she succeeds in creating a quite exotic piece.
The superbly named How to decode an illusion begins with heavy monotonic buzz before other sounds; some abrasive, some serene; begin to add character. Even so the constant drone of the lower register buzz is relentless and the vague harmonic language that ensues has a quasi-futuristic aura if I can call it that. It is a fascinating piece and there are plenty more for you to get stuck into on her Soundcloud page. You could also pay a visit to her website (https://caterinabarbieri.com/) which explains the conceptual thinking behind her exploration of machine intelligence and object oriented perception. She refers to Minimalism as being at the heart of these explorations but these striking textures and unusual harmonic outcomes are a far cry from the major-minor tonal patterns of Glass or Riley.
From Europe to South America next then. Peruvian composer Norberto Valdes Alpizar (https://soundcloud.com/norberto-valdes-alpizar) is another regular sender of tracks to Fresh on the Net. They are always of a high standard in terms of the part-writing and orchestration. Sometimes he comes up with a real gem too and certainly his latest effort In The Field is so beautifully written with a wholesome oboe sound, sweet strings and various timbres rising and falling within a harmonically exotic piece. I can overlook the fact that he is, it would seem, not trying to shake any trees in terms of the evolution of art music in the 21st Century! When all is said and done, a lovely piece is a lovely piece and sometimes that is all it needs to be.
A regular contributor to Fresh on the Net both as artist and reader is Brendan Walsh & His Gastric Band (https://soundcloud.com/brendanwalsh-thatsme). He has been on my radar for a while now and his latest offering, 24 Hours from Tulse Hill, is not a Gene Pitney pastiche as the amusing title might suggest but actually a really well-constructed slice of dreamy, trippy instrumental Jazz Futurism with lovely guitar and synth work at its forefront.
Finally getting my shit together has a breezy aura, major six and nine chords strumming away over a light beat while guitar and airy synth and organ sounds add layers of harmony and understated melodic phrases. The Battle of Grosvenor Square is in triplet time and appealingly choppy guitar dominates over a repeated bass line while the synths stay in the distance, adding an enigmatic atmosphere. Actual sounds of traffic and people reinforce the urban aura. Ne Plus Ultra has a dreamier feel, resonant guitars, melodic [what sounds like] fretless bass and a filmic soundscape. The changes in feel, breaks in the drum parts and shifts in style lift the track too. All good stuff and there is plenty more worth taking the time to explore.
WORLD IN UNION
Vardan Hovanissian (https://soundcloud.com/search?q=Vardan%20Hovanissian) is an Armenian Duduk player. The Duduk, for those like me who have not previously come across this beautiful instrument, is described by Wikipedia as ‘... an ancient double reed woodwind instrument made of apricot wood’ and it is indigenous to the creation of Armenia as a nation. It has a rich mellow timbre, almost somewhere between a Cor Anglais and Uilleann Pipes [with no drone obviously]. Hovanissian’s Soundcloud page has nothing newer than three years old but the tracks on there are soulful and evocative of vast rolling hills and still night skies. They see him duetting on several tracks with the Turkish Bağlama (or Saz) player Emre Gültekin (https://soundcloud.com/bruxelleskulturlab/emre-gultekin-le-saz-et-la-diversite). The Bağlama is somewhat akin to a Lute and is Persian in origin. Lusnak Gisher is particularly beautiful and really brings out the strength and uniqueness of both instruments. Getashen is sparser and uses percussion to provide a really expressive additional element and rhythmic drive.
The track played by Late Junction (BBC Radio 3) with Verity Sharp was Houcher which is not on the Soundcloud page and is presumably quite new. You can hear that for a bit longer yet on the podcast of the show (broadcast on 22nd January) or you can check out the Soundcloud tracks for now. They are a very good introduction to a musical world worth spending time in.
It is always a pleasure to receive a new track by Tenerife’s finest Folk-Pop duo Black Mirror (https://soundcloud.com/blackmirror-music) and although, according to their Soundcloud page, Worms is a year old, it was new to Fresh on the Net in January and offers a typically soulful sensitive execution of a lovely song in which Ines’s soft vocal harmonies are haunting and beautiful, set against Arsenio’s resonant and lovingly played guitar parts and sustained strings. It builds dynamically, transforming itself from soft and eerie to a beautiful [controlled] bombardment of the senses. Black Mirror continue to be an under-rated duo deserving of an international platform for their unique and original music.
El Sol De Los Muertos is brand new and offers a series of snippets of tracks all showcasing their gorgeous guitar picking and chord play topped by sweet vocal harmonies that explore the ranges of their combined voices. It is a great way to hear in one place the scope of their fine songwriting, arranging and performing skills. They really are pretty special.
Elsa Åborg (https://soundcloud.com/elsaaborg) hails from Stockholm in Sweden and makes folky acoustic pop with tracked vocals and engaging melodies that struck me when I heard her song I Cave. It is a completely organic format of voice(s) and guitar with some keys in the distance.
Too Close is jauntier and has a shuffle feel plus an exquisite key change into a soul-tinged chorus. There is also an EP entitled Heart Attacks on her Soundcloud page. This has more instrumentation including drums and takes her closer to Indie-Folk. All in all, an interesting artist with a strong voice and clear songwriting ability.
Oly Moosic (https://soundcloud.com/oly-moosic) or the Oly Group, depending which social media page I look at, are this month’s truly extraordinary pop find. The young American band from Olympia, Washington State (WA) started out as a bit of fun when hanging out at their singer’s house but rapidly developed into a serious project aimed at fusing the elements of their diverse influences (Jazz, Hip Hop, Rock etc.) into something tangible, original and positive in a crazy messed up world. And boy, have they concocted a sound to make the world stand up and take note.
They grabbed my attention by sending the urban-leaning jazz-tinged and harmony-filled track Home into Fresh on the Net (presumably via the BBC 6 Music Introducing Mixtape). It was so distinct, brooding and soulful, it immediately stood out even from within a strong batch of new tracks.
That led me to their Soundcloud page and the album Luminary where I discovered the smoky jazz-inflected pop of 10 O’Clock. That is followed by the darker pop and rap of Better. All the while the vocals, the harmonies, the chords and the choice of sounds, beats and timbres are bang-on. This is pop music of real quality that wears its wide spectrum of influences as a badge of honour [and rightly so].
Dreams, as the title not unreasonably suggests, has a dreamy (sic.) lilt but it also has some interesting moments where chords overlap and there is another deep-voiced rap that brings a sudden intensity. Held (in which, for reasons only they can know, Part 2 precedes Part 1!) is another highlight with gorgeous close harmony and a combination of sleepy Jazz chord-accompanied vocals and full-on urban pop futurism. Love closes the 8-tracker with unusual slightly shuffling rhythm, powerful falsetto vocals and more sweet harmonies. ‘Wow’ is the word that springs to mind. What a truly outstanding band. Let’s hope radio here in the UK gets on board.
You can follow them on Twitter (@THEOLYGROUP) and on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/OLY-GROUP-221911868713743/?view_public_for=221911868713743) or check out their website (https://theolymusic.wixsite.com).
The Cheap Thrills (https://soundcloud.com/the-cheap-thrills) are another in a never-ending line of fine Pop acts from Liverpool. How is it that all these decades on the legacy of the Beatles never seems to fade? Well anyway The Cheap Thrills are also another act managed by Kelly Munro’s End of the Trail Creative and, as is becoming increasingly well-documented in TTD, Kelly’s acts all seem to be doing rather well. So, fresh from seeing on another social media platform news that the Cheap Thrills were touring, so their new track Saint or Sinner arrived in the FOTN uploader and what an epic piece of contemporary pop it is too, sitting somewhere between the 1975 and European EDM with its big production, four-to-the-floor bass drum beat, driving energy and loud resonant synths. The hook gets right inside the listener’s head and the sheer power of the track is undeniable. It is also made for radio. So it will be interesting to see if it gets some airtime.
Accident Prone is a very different kettle of fish, rockier and guitar-driven, the keyboard adding colour and duetting with the guitar in the bridge. Codependence has shades of another classic Liverpudlian band Echo & the Bunnymen with its big major chords and anthemic vocals. Clearly there are some highly varied elements in amongst their influences. If they continue the building of a consistent and distinct sound based on all these aspects they are going to get better and better. An exciting band and one to watch.
Zarah (https://soundcloud.com/user-910091506) is blessed with a soulful dexterous voice that is perfectly placed within the poppy R’n’B vibe of her track Give it up to me which has a cool slightly syncopated beat and a simple but effective backdrop of synth chords that allow her plenty of room to add spine-tingling vocal harmonies. There is no information and there are no links either on her Soundcloud page so you may need to take to google and do some digging to find out more but this is a great way to introduce herself to the world. I hope it gets her some attention.
Another new name to me is SMK ft. Bluey (https://soundcloud.com/krhymezcb) whose Old Days landed in the Fresh on the Net uploader in January and grabbed my attention for both its syncopation between the programmed beat and the vocals and for the reflective and slightly rueful rap (presumably by Bluey). It’s Hip Hop with an unmistakably London feel and is executed with energy and polish.
Also on SMK’s Soundcloud page is Lingo which kicks off with a poppier vibe, reverb-soaked vocals over choppy keyboard chords before the rap takes over and swaps between rap and singing. The backdrop is sparse and the hook is soulful and catchy. This is eminently radio-friendly. There are no links on the page and I have not yet explored other social media pages but if SMK hasn’t been played by BBC 1Xtra yet, that ought to be something that happens in 2019.
Hollie Findlay (https://soundcloud.com/hollie_findlay) is a 15 year old singer-songwriter born and initially raised in Greece before coming to Blackpool. And I imagine a lot of people will be surprised when they hear her songs to discover that she is so young. Not only does she have a voice whose emotional DNA already points to a maturity beyond her years but her songwriting is equally well-developed and characterized by a seemingly innate sense of proportion.
Hollie’s latest offering Late Night Memories is organic, acoustic and folk-influenced pop with a hook that gets inside the listener’s head. The vocal offers a just about perfect balance of matter-of-fact resignation and rueful melancholy. Production is simple but right for the track. Nostalgia is built upon appealing piano chords and understated guitar and more soulful melancholy vocals. Late Night Memories? Nostalgia? So much reflection on the past at such a young age! But yeah, I probably spent my mid-teens writing about similar topics so I get that too (albeit I very much doubt my songs matched the maturity of Hollie’s).
I have commented before, in relation to Fresh on the Net and Trust The Doc favourites Backspace, about how easy it is for us longer-in-the-tooth reviewers to make unnecessary allowances for the age of young artists when, as I clearly recall, most teenage musicians passionately want to be judged against the best out there. So let’s do exactly that here. Hollie’s songs are not simply impressive because she is 15. They are impressive because they are great songs and her talent for penning a really strong, memorable hook is particularly notable.
Where age might matter more is in the type of support and guidance she receives. I mentioned Backspace and they are a shining example of a band whose career is being superbly managed by parents who have their kids’ welfare at heart plus a passion to see them realise their dreams. There isn’t a great deal of information online regarding Hollie and her website just points to her social media pages. But let’s hope she is able to have support structures around her that will help her manage her ambitions in the right way for her. She deserves that because she clearly has something special.
I have also been highly impressed by the emotionally powerful writing and outstanding voice of Cardiff’s guitar-toting singer-songwriter John Adams (https://soundcloud.com/johnadamsmusic1) whose Flames is a Soul, Blues and Folk tinged slice of three-time Pop with cool echo guitar licks answering the vocals. They reveal John Adams as one hell of a singer with a distinct, rangey and affecting tenor voice. The combination of a very contemporary Pop style and sound, with some guitar influences that nod to early Fleetwood Mac (and I mean really early as in Peter Green era British Blues band) and maybe even a touch of Chris Isaak, really works.
Coming Home has a very contemporary keyboard sound and distant ambience in the intro before that gives way to a laid back ballad which builds dynamically. Things that make you beautiful has a minimal piano accompaniment to accomplished vocals and appealing harmonies. Deep strings add to the dreamy aura. The lyrical message is quite sweet too. Certainly this is music that is tailor-made for radio. The climatic voices and semi-orchestral chords later in the track underline his penchant for penning arrangements that build from the sparse to full-on while complementing his impressive vocals at all times.
Ethereal Alt Pop
As this ambiguous sub-heading betrays I am not quite sure how to summarise the music of RYD (https://soundcloud.com/rydoffmusic) whose beautiful track You only had to look back arrived in the FOTN uploader late on a Monday night. Soaked in otherworldly interweaving falsetto harmonies and dreamy melody, accompanied by understated but resonant guitars, it is somewhere between Dream Pop and Cinematic. It is striking and original too.
RYD is a London-based solo artist whose Facebook page reveals that he already has a robust team around him. It includes a record deal with 37 Adventures, management, a booking agent and an album released. Don’t is similarly dreamy and filled with bendy echoing synths. Work it out has a beautifully laid back vibe with its drum echoes that sound like distant shots, soft reverberant vocals and tasteful picking guitar. And so it goes on. This boy’s got a bright future and his sense of individuality and distinct upper register vocal style really mark him out.
Alternative Rock & Indie
Demerara Records artist Cholly (https://soundcloud.com/chollyhappymusic) is a favourite of Trust The Doc but her partner Conor has also been winning fans in 2018 for his thoughtfully developing Alternative Rock project A Motion for Control (https://soundcloud.com/motionforcontrol). A few months ago he made the Fresh on the Net Fresh Faves with the track Plainview which featured Cholly on vocals. It duly received an eloquent and generous review by my fellow moderator and author Chris Ingram.
Now Conor has another track featuring Cholly, the excellent Etched in Glass. Both these recordings underline his ability to build tracks around strong drum beats and guitar chords, accomplished musicianship and a liking for melodies and harmonies that float above the mix in a contrastingly serene manner. The latter also offers a slow opening section that leads into a more frantic double time backdrop while the vocals continue to float eerily in slower time. The Wah-Wah guitar solo works well in this context.
Drivel also features Cholly and more trademark open fifths harmonies over slow powerbeat and teasing guitar that again picks up pace and develops into a semi-Psych Rock track. Comparisons are difficult here. Maybe slight similarities with Warpaint in the way the haunting vocal sits against the rockier base. Alabama Shakes maybe come to mind in the sense of this mixing up of such contrasting ideas. A Motion for Control remains, for now, a studio project but there may be a live performance or two later in 2019 so, in the meantime, I recommend checking out the Soundcloud page.
A band I have not heard before but hope to hear more of soon is Spotlightkidtracks (https://soundcloud.com/spotlightkidtracks) and not surprising since the only track currently on their Soundcloud page is the new single Shivers. It’s a heck of a sound they have created, almost chaotic as chords run into chords, reverb is omnipresent and they have successfully managed to make the music as ambiguous and enigmatic as their page which tells us nothing except it’s out in February. The band are sporting animal masks in the pic too!
Female voice sits atop male ones in psychedelic harmony over a guitar-soaked driving Dream Pop backdrop. It’s almost like Goldfrapp getting together with Mazzy Star and jamming with the Jesus and Mary Chain! Hmmm, perhaps not! Well anyway, I can’t tell you much more really but it’s a damn fine debut. I hope the rest of their repertoire is this good.
I am also very taken with Interior Moon (https://soundcloud.com/interiormoon) whose track Never let you go landed in the FOTN uploader. It is slightly chaotic in terms of the arrangement but it sort of works because the live feel he achieves with the crazy drum track and plenty of riffing guitar complements his voice which has a classic American Post-Punk feel about it that simultaneously reminds me of Alabama Shakes, Television’s Tom Verlaine and early Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (circa Fooled Again & Refugee). His voice is particularly strong and makes me want to hear more and the song is full of passion and attitude too. The main choppy guitar figure has shades of Franz Ferdinand while the plucked bass scaling up and down is somewhere between Bruce Foxton and early Arctic Monkeys. Okay well that is quite a varied group of reference points for you!
There are mainly acoustic tracks on Interior Moon’s Soundcloud page. They are good and once again showcase his passionate distinct singing but having had a taste of what he can do in a ‘band’ context, I feel that is his calling. Interior Moon is a young Scottish singer-songwriter. I look forward to hearing more of his music soon. I would also love to see and hear how his songs work with a full live band behind him.
I have reviewed Twist Helix (https://soundcloud.com/twisthelix) recently so no need to trawl through the same tracks again but I had to mention the submission to FOTN of Pulse as it is such a powerhouse of Alt Rock with electronic undercurrents belted out in an appealingly loud and hard-edged female vocal. Newcastle’s Electronic Alt Pop maestros continue to impress.
Ambient & Electronic Music
The ever-dependable Faodail (https://soundcloud.com/faodailmusic) is back with a new track entitled Northbound which is particularly calming and evocative of the sea, the cliffs and vast highlands. Faodail is Callan from Scotland (though where in Scotland is not clear). His social media is nicely laid out but enigmatic as far as info goes! However the photo of beautiful frosty mountain peaks on his Facebook page suggests the ‘Northbound’ to which his latest piece is a homage may well be in the mountainous North of Scotland. Anyway it’s a lovely track. If it is possible for a track to be simultaneously suggestive of cold and snow and yet full of warmth, then that is what he has achieved here.
I have covered Faodail in Trust The Doc before but there is a great selection of fine ambient electronica on his Soundcloud page. Peter is similarly evocative and lovingly crafted with sweet chords emerging from enigmatic swirl like planes appearing from behind clouds before the beat kicks in and drives the second half of the track forward (still with sustained sounds floating above the foundations). Fairweather is in triplet time and a minor key so it feels a little darker but has the same characteristic contrasts of texture, light and shade plus a beautiful and unexpected finish. I could go on but you get the picture. Log onto his page and listen if you love music that is ambient, atmospheric and beautifully arranged.
AND FINALLY …..
Well that is it folks. A more normal length edition with all the sections back in place. Happy Reading and see you on the ides of February. Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings! Neil xxxx