Last but definitely not least, to SUBMIT A TRACK OR VIDEO for radio play; to be on Upstream on Trust The Doc TV or to be reviewed in this blog, please send either:
Either way the correct email account is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please DO NOT send Dropbox or similar links and folders that I have to go fishing in for the right track. A simple MP3 with an email is fine. (Art & Design: PaulFCook)
Part One: The Month in Brief
Part Two: Reviews of New Music
Part Three: Other Commentaries
Wise Up People: Fresh on the Net is still your best option (Page 36)
And Finally …. (Page 40)
TRUST THE DOC MEDIA: UPDATE
The Trust The Doc Radio show grew even quicker in June, passing the 19K milestone on the podcast (about 27K including live listeners). These days it is a highly interactive experience with two polls (Track of the Week & Show Closer), a brain teaser (What’s The Word?) and the insanely fast-moving Twitter thread! It is also dominated by new music. 50% of content is by new and emerging artists and about 35% is new music by more established acts with a few classics linked to the regular features. It is also an absolute blast to present every week thanks both to the wonderful community that gathers for the show, the hundreds who make the effort to listen to the podcast and the amazing artists whose music I get to play.
The pre-recorded one-hour Trust The Doc Extra show (8PM, Wednesdays) also continues to grow. It is a show predominantly for playing brand new tracks by new and emerging artists before they have been played on the Saturday show. Most will not make it onto the Trust The Doc Radio Show simply because there is not enough time or space for that to happen but at least I am able to give them a spin midweek instead. And because it is not live I am able to offer more music, less talk in an hour.
As always here is how the two shows work.
Sat 5 - 7PM
Trust The Doc Radio
Live & interactive with shout outs, Track of the Week poll, regular features etc. 50% new & emerging acts, approx 35% current tracks by more established acts.
Wed 8 - 9PM
Trust The Doc Extra
Pre-recorded show mainly introducing new & emerging artists’ latest offerings.
The Trust The Doc TV channel continues to host the twice-monthly magazine-style music TV show Upstream and June saw another two exciting editions of the show, accompanied by more people than ever in the live chat room. Ed 27 also featured footage of all 8 acts playing live at my two June events in South East London. Now I am super excited by the line-up on Ed 28 next week (Tuesday 6th July). The reason for the shows being so good is entirely down to the number of talented artists allowing me to share their videos. Look out for the link on social media in the coming days. Find all editions and subscribe to the channel for free here.
VANISHING POINT @ AMP STUDIOS
What a stunning night we had at AMP Studios on Thursday 3rd June thanks to amazing performances from all four artists. Check out the Trust The Doc Twitter and Instagram accounts for pics and comments but massive respect to Logan J Parker; Pixi Ink; Rosie Bergonzi and Fast Trains (aka Tom Wells). And massive thanks to the wonderful people at AMP Studios. What a magical venue it is and once again the covered open air space proved to be universally popular with our lovely audience. Even the trains going past the back of the stage high up above the wall appears as if it is part of the visual experience. One audience member asked me whether I had commissioned South East Trains for that very reason! Perhaps I should have lied! There is no venue like it anywhere in London and everyone who loves live non-mainstream music and can be in South East London on the first Thursday of any or every month should come and experience being part of its ambience.
Amazing how quickly the time goes. We are now about to have the third Vanishing Point at AMP Studios since lockdown restrictions were first eased. Tomorrow (Thursday 1st July) it’s the turn of Amongst The Pigeons; With Sun; Colorvox and Soricah to play in this magical covered open air space. Once again an evening of eclectic, chilled and futuristic music with table service and a great atmosphere. At the time of writing this, there are still a few tickets available from https://demerararecords.com/vanishing-point.
TRUST THE DOC LIVE: @ THE AMERSHAM ARMS
Thursday 10th June 2021 saw the return of indoor live music to South East London with Trust The Doc Live @ The Amersham Arms. We had an amazing night thanks to an audience that was so enthusiastic and upbeat, the fantastic team at this beautiful, historic venue and four stunning performances courtesy of Wild Horse, Amey St Cyr, Staarks and Tantrum Zentrum. The event now moves permanently to the third Wednesday of every month. So good to have a special relationship with one of the most iconic and long-standing venues in London. I will be there with TTD Live on the third Wednesday of the month for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.
Tickets are on sale for the next Trust The Doc Live @ The Amersham Arms, New Cross (opposite New Cross Station) on Wednesday 21st July and we have a rocking line-up of local favourites with Fresh on the Net and Trust The Doc Radio pedigree. On the bill are Pushpin; Dan Cross; March and The Anderson Tapes. It is going to be another pretty special night. Tickets are available from https://demerararecords.com/trust-the-doc-live.
TOMORROW CALLING FESTIVAL: EARLY BIRD PRICE
As previously reported, Tomorrow Calling will take place on Sunday 5th September at AMP Studios (897a Old Kent Road) with the two identical former railway arches housing the two stages while the beautiful courtyard area will enable local creative folk to set up stalls selling food, drink, merchandise etc. Doors will open at 1PM with the first live act on stage at 2PM and the last one finishing just before 10PM. 14 artists will perform across the day. It should be a wonderful day of futuristic, spacey, sparse, chilled and experimental music and sound.
I have put tickets on sale at a special early bird price of just £10 for the whole day. If you buy tickets before the rate goes up, you can save money and be at Lewisham’s first music festival.
The provisional line-up is:
VANISHING POINT STAGE
TRUST THE DOC STAGE
POST COAL PROM QUEEN
PIMLICAN FT. JOSIE
LINES OF SILENCE
HANNYA WHITE’S BIRDSONG TOP 10 ON NCCR
On 9th June, the ever-inventive and busy Hannya White was a guest presenter on Chris Watts’s excellent show In The Moog on NCCR (North Cotswolds Community Radio) where she played her Birdsong Top 10. Following her guest curation and presentation of the BBC Radio 6 Music show The Freak Zone Playlist, it was good to hear Hannya back on the radio once again talking about her choices. She had spent a good deal of time considering which tracks to choose and it showed. The running order worked really well and she managed to put together a show united by the sound of recorded birdsong in a variety of scenarios, juxtaposed against music and sound compositions. Included in the list were tracks by mutual friends such as PaulFCook’s beautiful tribute to his late mum Mater Gloria from the Vanishing Point Vol. 1 compilation album I released on Demerara Records in 2018 and the wonderful Song Thrush Serenade by Helefonix. Among my other favourite tracks were Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs with the ambient tranquility of Los Angeles and Four Seasons - Spring - Birds by Anna Meredith & The Scottish Ensemble. It was a thoroughly rewarding hour of radio and fascinating as always to hear Hannya talk about what had inspired her to choose the tracks and, in some cases, telling the stories behind their inception. Last but not least, big thanks to Hannya for shouting me out and mentioning hearing Helefonix on my Trust The Doc Radio show.
PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC
Albums & EPs
THE ACTIONS: Flourish
Bristol-based duo The Actions have already enjoyed an impressive career that involves, among other things, supporting the likes of R.E.M, Green Day and Garbage, music in a movie soundtrack and lavish praise and support from most of the leading UK media for non-mainstream and electronic-related music. Now Mo and Marta have this stunning album Flourish. And, just as last year’s Julianna Barwick set particularly captivated me with its otherworldiness and rich textures, so The Actions have carried me off to an ethereal, magical place through their own unique blend of Trip Hop, Ambient and Synth-Electronic music.
Flourish starts as it means to go on with Leap. The introductory vocal sounds and slow ambient beat are an unmistakable nod to early Portishead. As the track builds, Marta’s whispery but dominating voice focuses our attention while the synth and electronic sounds offer new thematic material ranging from an electrical saw-like timbre to resonant synth melodies. The way the beat and corresponding bass notes are put through a stop-start routine is striking and clever. The whole thing revolves essentially around two [loosely based] chords but events are fluid and the changes keep us guessing.
This quiet intensity continues through the bendy synths, unimposing guitar picking and 6/8 beat of Save me with vocals deeper and sparser while Buoyant is sublime, a series of small dynamic arcs in which the beat comes and goes while Marta’s voice rides the waves, small and large, of synths before the final section deconstructs the track and the triadic synth patterns fade to silence. Old Flaw offers further contrast, the vocals coming in immediately over a descending figure that has shades of Massive Attack and Bjork in a jam with Julia Holter.
Inner Flow builds slowly from very quiet beginnings, rhythmically fluid with a consequent sense of suspension as the vocals echo in sweeps of sound over warm synth and unusual drum patterns. The unobtrusive but busy bleeps have a spacy aura before a bouncing synth bass accompanies wordless vocals and quiet phrases that could almost be Liz Fraser in a mash with Hannah Peel. Title track Flourish begins with separated single synth tones while Marta’s soft, melodic vocal reminds me a little of Arlo Parks in her more fragile moments, perhaps in a jam with White Flowers. The track develops with the most minimal of percussion programmes, long looping synth notes and agile vocals. It feels quite epic despite its translucent soundscape, packing such a range of nuances into just shy of five minutes.
The last three tracks further reinforce the contrasting but consistent musical and sonic states that make Flourish such a complete and unified work. Your Sins kicks off with a low-mixed far away-sounding beat that could momentarily be an approaching army of tribespeople. But just when you think it is going to rise up in volume, Marta’s voice appears from stage right and bendy synth chords follow her lead. The harmonic changes that drive the track are quite gorgeous while the rhythmic ambiguities create an appealing fluidity. That feeling of suspended animation again. Cocteau Twins meet Anna Meredith on a sonic trip with Brian Eno and Dead Can Dance. Yet there is an almost jazz-tinged edge to the semi-tone dips in the keyboards and the shimmering guitar chords that join later. This is probably my favourite track. So imaginative and futuristic.
Bleeding Trail begins with a desert-like aura, almost Spaghetti Western with echoing tremolo guitar and pipey synth before the octave-jumping synth pattern takes the track into triplet time and long deep synth notes materialise. Again so many ideas in one track. Finally then we have Hindered, the longest track on the album and one that is a slow burning, gradually building epic with a filmic quality as sounds come and go, competing for attention, throwing counter-melodies into the melting pot and building the track’s momentum while the vocals always occupy centre stage. It ends with some softly sizzling low register tones as the embers gradually burn out leaving silence but the sense of what we have experienced still hanging in the air. A clever finale from Mo and Marta rounding off a really enjoyable and accomplished album.
EMMA JOHNSON’S GRAVY BOAT: Worry Not
Leeds-based saxophonist and composer Emma Johnson is an amazing talent and she has put together a top-notch band in the form of her Gravy Boat. Featuring Emma on Sax and composition, the remaining members are Richard Jones (Piano), Fergus Vickers (Guitar), Angus Milne (Double Bass) and Steve Hanley (Drums). The chemistry that has formed between the musicians is evident from the outset.
Worry Not kicks off with the aptly titled [given it is the beginning of a musical journey] Setting Sail, an introduction to the Gravy Boat trademark of free flowing summer night vibes in which finely honed musicianship rubs shoulders with an innate melodic sensibility. Emma is unequivocally a Jazz composer but with the talent to turn out tunes that are catchy, yes, but never cheesy. This is further reinforced by the bubbling buoyant 6/8 time Vertical Planes with its light-textured piano figure leading the way while the sax plays the melody before sliding into a more laid back and translucent mid-section full of subtly understated improvisation and loose funky rhythms. There’s a sparkling guitar solo dualling with the piano in a manner that could be Fusion era Larry Carlton jamming with Herbie Hancock. When the sax melody returns at the end, the feeling of completeness is given a final flourish by the spine-tingling chord sequence in the final bar.
Fully Fledged has a more fragmented feel and its looseness encourages the band members to stretch out. There is some harmonically intriguing piano work going on here too. Ah, if only Durufule had embraced Jazz! Beautiful Double Bass slides add another nuance to this stunning piece. Interlude is exactly what the title implies, a slow and short piece in which the sax takes the lead and sweet soulful chords provide the foundation. Then a cool Double Bass and cymbals figure introduces Waterlogged, a track that reminds me a little of Denys Baptiste in a mash with Weather Report while Walter Becker pops in to provide some chromatically descending guitar sophistication. The drumming here is clever, unobtrusive and yet providing a rhythmic fluidity upon which the piano and Double Bass are able to add to that chromatic contemporary jazz sensibility. There are so many aspects to this track; all of them good.
The single Hold me tight is just gorgeous, keeping matters simple and avoiding the temptation to over-indulge on what is the Gravy Boat’s version of a pop tune. Emma’s sax melody lodges itself in my brain and the semi-glissando, semi-arpeggio piano theme drives things along. As ever the band’s playing is all the more impressive for how they deliver a relatively straightforward track with such expert touch. Title track Worry Not is a seven-minute exploration with a slightly Eastern aura to the open fourths and fifths that appear here and there, emphasised by the piano at times. There are some sumptuous chord patterns and the drumming is once again so impressive for how it sets the parameters. The playing is just beautiful, Emma’s sax mellow but dymanic, the piano primarily setting out the harmonic language while the guitar is thoughtful and inventive.
It ends with the amazing Sun Stones, the track that originally introduced me to their music with its modally inflected piano themes, busy Drums and Double Bass, fluid rhythms and fantastic chemistry. A virtuosic and very contemporary finish to a quite magical album on which the standard never slips even for an instant. Emma Johnson and her Gravy Boat are one of the most refreshingly imaginative and perfectly configured acts in contemporary Jazz. Surely they will be occupying bigger platforms very soon.
JANAIL DEVANI: The End of the Line (EP)
Jainil Devani is a 19 year old writer and producer from India who has wasted no time in blazing a trail with his music. Recipient of a glowing article in Rolling Stone India and already collaborating across continents, he is doing everything right. When he isn’t making music, he is also a medical student so he has all the bases covered as far as career is concerned.
Chicago is a great way to kick things off, straight in with Alicia Orozco’s striking voice singing soulfully over quiet piano before the guitar and synth strings join in and the arrangement takes on a more epic pop feel. Then Tomas Baptista adds a contrasting voice, almost classical baritone in style. The melody is strong and Alicia’s semi-gospel ad libs lift matters up a notch. Jainil’s arranging skills are very much in evidence. This is contemporary pop of the utmost quality.
Alicia Orozco is also the lead voice on Dancing Boots, another slow burning track, this time with her multi-tracked harmonies at the forefront of a song where once again the melody is strong and infectious. Jainil’s musical backdrop is tastefully done, picking guitar accompanied by echoing drum programme and legato synths. 5: 30 features Stephanie Rodriguez whose alto range voice is mellow and almost a little Country-tinged (think Sharon Van Etten meets Natalie Merchant) which suits the multi-layered harmonies over slightly shuffling beat and two-chord pattern. Amalie Dorothea duets with Tomas Baptista on Glacial on which soft piano chords introduce Amalie’s soft-toned, melancholy vocals. Tomas joins the action a bit further into the track as it increasingly adopts an epic quality. It’s all impressively pieced together with real attention to detail making it easy to forget that Jainil is still only 19.
The EP ends with the reprise of Chicago. At 3:44, it’s a little more than just a reprise however. This time it is just Alicia harmonising her own vocals with another lush but understated and uncluttered instrumental backdrop, a beautiful and expressive finale to a very fine EP.
PULSR: A MEMORY (EP)
German electronic music and sound artist Pascal Guzik aka PulsR returns following his excellent recent album with a new 5-track EP entitled A Memory. The Cologne-based artist traverses the invisible boundaries between Electronica, Industrial Music and Sound Art, fusing striking sounds with ambient synths, different levels of beats and an innate experimentalism.
Chronophobia kicks things off with its machine gun-like synth figure driving events and a repeating melody line played in octaves. Shades of Portishead in a jam with Chris & Cosey maybe. Erase the night follows, taking us off into a frantic beat and tempo like Faithless on speed with flashbacks to Acid House raves in large fields and warehouses despite the obviously contemporary nature of the sounds in use here.
No way back keeps the contrasts coming, an almost synth-pop figure that could be Four Tet jamming with Anna Meredith while there is an air of Katie Gately about the building wall of synth buzz at the heart of the track. Memory Alteration continues in similar tempo but the sounds are more ambient and enigmatic with some wonderful background noises that have been recorded at volume and pulled back in the mix to create a delicious intensity.
It ends with Late Insight, slow and sparse to begin with as a percussive sound explodes and echoes just below the main synth theme that repeats over three prominent synth bass tones. The soundscape begins to sound less transparent as sounds dip in and out but the synth bass pattern remains consistent while events play out on top of it. Pascal builds an impressive arc of sound and then, over the final quarter of the track, he cleverly deconstructs the whole thing towards a sparse percussive and resonant finish, an artist stepping quietly away knowing his fine work is once again done.
I was really pleased to receive the new video by the excellent China Bamboo. The song is Ambivalence (For You); a single I actually played on my radio show back in November 2020. It is a mid-tempo, dreamy piece of melancholy melodic Alt Pop with striking, distinct female vocal that is instantly appealing. Shades of The Sundays in a mash with The Cranberries while White Flowers drop by to add ingredients. The guitar is pretty and resonant while the bass and drums provide an imaginative and strong foundation for the song. The video itself is shot outdoors in woodland and fields, partly scenes of the band playing and partly shots of them looking thoughtful and enigmatic. It’s a relatively simple but effective approach that makes clever use of colour and light and affords us plenty of opportunity to enjoy watching the band interact and perform. The track is quite lovely and will burrow into your brain before you know it. I hope the video will give it another lease of life as a single too. Incidentally it is included in Ed 26 of Upstream on Trust The Doc TV.
Newcastle Upon Tyne is home to Badmind and their new single Flaws and Phases is a punchy piece of Pop with Soul leanings. Instantly and infectiously catchy, the vocal melody is fortified by harmonies that sit back in the mix and a saxophone flourish that lends a classy but retro aura to what is otherwise a very contemporary sounding track. Badmind are a duo of charismatic singer Dayna and her musical partner-in-crime Jamie. A glance through their social media pages suggests Dayna is the talkative one, always smiling and enthusing about their music. She has a voice to match that big personality too, dexterous and soulful with an agreeably tough edge while Jamie’s instrumental arrangement is modern in style and production but infused with subtle sprinklings of Tamla Motown and Classic Pop. Music to lift the spirits.
It has been a while since I have received a new track by Eliza Shaddad but Heaven has been worth waiting for. More explicitly guitar band-influenced than the last single I reviewed of hers, this is Alt Pop with a dose of early nineties-style funkiness plus an earthy but rich alto essence to Eliza’s vocal performance. The song builds with an intensity that is contrasted by the sweet guitar jangle and melodic bass that uses inversions to add colour to the strummed chords while the drums have that syncopated feel that could almost be the Happy Mondays. In this case, that’s the Mondays in a jam with Haim while the almost Country-ish harmonies lift the chorus with a possible nod to Sheryl Crow. That chorus seems to get stronger and fuller as the track goes on, dismantling my defences as it inevitably wins my affection.
London duo ColourTelly are a new name to me but their track Babs is a gorgeously squelchy summery slice of Synth-soaked Pop with a Soul undercurrent that involves referencing Corinne Bailey Rae and certainly has elements of that jazz-tinged Neo Soul thing mixing in with persistently melodic vocals and electro-pop sensibilities that could be Jockstrap going mid-tempo Disco in a jam with Chvrches and Code 64. A dreamy dollop of contemporary pop magic.
It is difficult to know where to place Little Acres and the song Do you know as it has tangible elements of Soul, R’n’B and Jazz but it is also a sophisticated pop track that could almost be Solange in a mash with En Vogue while co-writing with Donald Fagen of Steely Dan for the rich jazz-infused chord progressions and close harmonies. At the same time it is very modern in style and production (more Fifth Harmony than Fifth Dimension!). The three vocalists (Rachel, Cariss & Emilie) are dexterous, versatile and accomplished. They interweave harmonically, making room for flourishes and ad libs, bringing a soulful energy to this hazy summer evening anthem.
I don’t know whether Pop Noodles is really the right section for this but NEKO KA have a track out called Ceiling Fan which mixes melodic synth and piano chords with quietly mixed but multi-tracked guitars that appear gradually, accompanying a mystery female vocalist whose style is soulful, rangey and impressive. At times the voice is doubled an octave below and there are appealing harmonies too. There are one or two very minor issues of intonation in some of the harmonies which may be me being ultra-critical but it is always worth taking the extra time to iron these things out particularly if you want to catch the ears of people higher up the food chain than me. All the same those harmonies are mostly very nice indeed.
Neko Kã is the recording moniker of Jack Cote (although his Soundcloud page begs to differ and calls him Saucyjack!) but an absence of any links or biog on his Soundcloud page means I can only assume, for now, that he is the instrumentalist, producer and writer. Certainly it is an engaging, brooding and dynamic slice of [Alt] [Soul] Pop balladry with an imaginative mix of influences and ideas.
Sometimes a track that’s quirky and individual just jumps out of the list at you and so it was with Deepa Seshadri with So good. Bouncy, buoyant piano, staccato synths and minimal beat accompany Deepa’s distinct voice. The song is upbeat despite the frustrations expressed in the lyrics. The multi-tracked harmonies are particularly nice and the song manages to mash slightly bluesy piano riffs with elements of Soul and Pop, part retro, part contemporary. Proof that a good melting pot can really turn up some sweet flavours. And proof that it pays to stand out from the crowd rather than to sheepishly follow it. Like this a lot.
London-based artist Io returns with another track that traverses the boundaries between the commercial end of Euro House/Trance and pure Pop. It has joyously buzzy and loud synths playing catchy choons and spraying colour across the track while Iola’s voice is distinct and dominant at the centre of the track, delivering a hook that immediately gets inside my head. A good radio track but one for hands in the air on the dancefloor too.
Also London-based is Maita whose track Something about you reveals an appealingly gentle but dynamic alto voice and a penchant for dreamy multi-tracked harmonies that float above the framework of piano and synth chords, laid back guitar and light drum programme. The song has a simple but attractive melody that plays off well against the repeated four chord pattern and enables Maita’s harmonising to flourish. Serene and satisfying.
Northern England-based artist Grace Beverley always makes interesting tracks in her ‘ethereal lo fi pop’ style. And so it is with Platform 4. It’s a hazy sunshine slice of ruefulness about love’s lost opportunities with elements of retro jazz-tinged Pop. It looks back maybe to the likes of Rosemary Clooney and Eartha Kitt while mixing it with modern artists in the ballpark of Lane Del Rey in a jam with Charlotte Gainsbourg while Charlotte Adigery also steps into the fray. Okay, this is getting a bit muddled and confusing. A better description might be that it is suave, sweet and delivered with an almost smoky aura of pure pop quality.
London-based Romanian singer-songwriter Jewelia was a well-deserved winner of my Track of the Week poll on Trust The Doc Radio earlier this month with the beautiful, heartstring-tugging Was it you or was it me. With a delicately dreamy descending chord figure and instantly inescapable melody, Jewelia delivers a rueful, dynamically perfect and yearning performance that has echoes of Ariana Grande jamming with Billie Eilish while Pink, in her quieter reflective moments, drops in. The soft otherworldly backing vocals provide a soothing contrast to the intensity of the lead voice in the chorus. If this was on a major label, it would be huge. Top quality pop ballad with perfect production.
West London-based artist Mari Dangerfield has been on my radar for some time and I have reviewed previous releases in this blog. It is also an interesting aside that she, like Logan J Parker and Anrimeal, is of part-Portugese descent. Three artists, all very different from one another but all making exciting, original music that I have been writing about recently. Mari’s new single The Stars were wrong is another masterpiece of inventive wobbly future Pop in which her distinct almost classical voice delivers a clever lyric, further reinforced by the simple but really well-made accompanying video (which will be on Upstream on 6th July).
Mari has a penchant for combining a sense of fragility with a strong underlying creativity that makes comparisons hard to pinpoint. There is an agreeable almost McCartney-esque familiarity about the chord sequence (in short 2minor, 4 minor, 1 major seventh, 5 & back) that dominates and the switch to filtered vocals here and there is a nice touch. Maybe shades of Katy J Pearson jamming with Julia Holter while Kate Bush provides the vocal harmony arrangement. There is even a hint of Donna Lewis about the way Mari places monotonic high register pitches at the top end of her vocal harmonies so that there is greater fluidity at the centre of the vocal mix. But, in reality, Mari doesn’t sound like any of those artists. Part Electro-Pop, part Alt Pop and, moreover, an accomplished and very individual singer-songwriter, Mari Dangerfield is happily ploughing her own contemporary pop path. Where it may lead is an exciting prospect.
Moving to the other side of the metro map Juliet and Her Regrets is the new project of Juliet from Juliet & Nanette. With a fairly simple clockwork drum machine, long synth chords and an increasing presence of clanging keyboard figures, this is a slow but intense synth-driven pop piece with subtle hints of Soul and Jazz (well it is Juliet). Juliet’s highly distinct and recognisable smoky heartbroken tones are perhaps more restrained here than on tracks with Nanette. But the tune is typically melancholy and the lyrics are in classic Juliet territory of broken love and longing. Echoes of Black in a mash-up with Alison Moyet while Halsey adds spices. Nicely done.
London-based artist March has been busy and has another of her enigmatic pop tracks out in Never Ruin. Clever rhythmic configurations and an arrangement that mixes dreamy synth lines with strummed guitar and solid bass and drums all allow Kitty room to stretch out vocally. Like so many of her songs, she saves the best for last, suddenly altering the chords and then introducing some gorgeous harmonies right at the death. Another cracking choon and the good news is she will be playing my Trust The Doc Live gig at the Amersham Arms on 21st July. Tickets here.
Alt Rock & Indie
“Based in London, made in Leeds”, no it’s not an advert for the Marines! It is the new single by Ten Hands High and this is the opening line of the blurb on their Soundcloud page. 2.28am is a mid-tempo jangly Alt Pop track with appealing and slightly melancholy melody with guitars that bring to mind Fleet Foxes in a mash-up with early Aztec Camera while Willie J Healey picks the wine. The vocals are bright, mainly in lower register but displaying dexterity and a good range as he climbs the scales. Shades of Teenage Fanclub jamming with The Coral in the overall sound too. It is particularly pleasing when the harmonies begin to become more prominent. This is good quality songwriting and arranging and the instrumental play is shimmery, syncopated and intricate. Another exciting band from the bottomless well of emerging talent that Leeds seems to be these days.
South East London is home to Lou Terry who has caught my attention with the fluid and imaginative Alt Pop of Until it fits. It starts off with a slightly folky feel with an organic sense to the instruments and voices but, as more instruments enter the fray, it veers towards a more Alt Rock style and controlled anarchy. Changes in tempo and mood punctuate the track but the one constant is the innate melodic strength at the heart of the track and a yearning intensity that takes it out of the reach of the chasing pack.
The track Crossing the Rubicon by The Unelected has been on their Soundcloud page for 11 months so not literally new. However it was submitted to Fresh on the Net this month and is new to me. An uptempo Alt Pop track with an appealing descending chord structure and tight vocal harmonies, it has distant echoes of Pete Wylie in a jam with World Party while Bombay Bicycle Club drop by for a chinwag. Melodic, driven by the feeling of intensity bubbling close to the surface and executed with precision, this is intelligent engaging Pop with an agreeable energy.
As well as being Bass Guitarist with The Fragile States and enjoying a career that has seen him work with some impressive names over the years, Dan Cross is also an accomplished solo artist. On Try Harder, he is aided and abetted by fellow legend Donald Ross Skinner on a track that builds from airy enigmatic beginnings through a mystical and possibly orientally-infused take on Psychedelia as the texture thickens, the guitars get louder and the dynamic arc increases. The mid-section brings a buoyant instrumental call and response accompanying Dan’s spoken word before the final stretch returns to melodic Psych-Rock. All in all, a clever and inventive piece exploring a range of influences to create a compelling track.
Dan has subsequently hit us with the pretty direct Psych-Punk Pop of Jesus ain’t coming back continuing on the Atheist Anthems theme of his 2020 album. Incidentally Dan will be playing my Trust The Doc Live gig at the Amersham Arms in New Cross on 21st July. So get your tickets here.
London-based Susannah Moore is Kintsugi San; a multi-instrumentalist whose track Backwards and Forwards, co-produced with Ben Baptie, is about the frustrations of fluctuating fortunes and what she describes as ‘... a real lie in the gutter and stare up at the stars’ moment. Well, good then that such a negative experience has managed to inspire such a positive track. Energetic but understated, it sits somewhere between the poppier end of Indie Rock and synthy 80s Pop, all topped off by a striking melody projected by her rueful but matter of fact alto range voice. The chorus and the slightly dub-infused middle section are the tasty toppings on this entertaining feast.
The latest track to come my way by the increasingly popular Bored At My Grandma's House is a fairly stripped down sounding demo of a track called China Doll with a minimal beat and strummed acoustic guitar accompanying some melodic acoustic lead lines and female vocals, often splitting into exquisite harmonies. Later we get a little synth tune that comes and goes too. Something this organic and sparse can easily fall flat but this is captivating and genuinely quite beautiful thanks to a melancholy heart-tugging melody and gorgeous harmonies sung in distinct and delightful tones, all accompanied by perfectly understated but intelligent instrumental play.
Incidentally this is another Soundcloud link that goes to the label who provide zero links to their artists. I had to search like crazy to find BAMGH on Twitter so I could tag her in a tweet about this review. If a label is going to release material by a talented artist, they could make a bit more effort to ensure she is visible on their online media because who knows what opportunities for airplay and reviews might be missed? Just saying!
The highly likeable Keeley and her band of the same name have a new EP entitled Brave Warrior. They are now signed to the wonderful South East London-based label Dimple Discs where, from everything I have seen of label manager Brian and the band’s manager Nick, they will be in good hands. Brave Warrior finds the Dublin artist and her band in energetic mood with four driving melodic slices of pure Alt Pop power. Keeley’s highly distinct alto voice is the perfect vehicle upon which to carry contrasting strands of fuzz and resonant guitars (Keeley), solid-as-stone bass (Martin Fagan), colourful keyboards (Marty Canavan) and agreeably loud punchy drums (Pete Duff).
The Glitter and the Glue jumps straight in with vocals and a Pixies-like guitar riff. It is instantly power-driven and has a live feeling to the playing and production. Shades of The Breeders in a mash with Elastica while Pillow Queens provide the screenplay. Last Words kicks off with pretty guitars before a chord figure that recalls early Psychedelic Furs and a joyous chorus that sits broadly between Courtney Barnett and 10,000 Maniacs, reinforced by splendid guitar jangle where melodies intertwine with apreggio figures. The last stretch of the song lights up the room with its decorative soundtrack and Keeley’s insistent vocals.
Never here, always there has a slightly Psychedelic quality. At the same time there is a Country tinge to the bendy guitars and slurred vocal melody. Haim in a jam with Goat Girl and extras thrown in by Ward Thomas. You’ve never made it that far begins with lavish synth arpeggios and a syncopated beat while Keeley’s voice is loud, legato and a little haunting, suiting the darker lyrical subject. This is sparse and funky by contrast to the full-on Alt Rock sensibilities of the previous three tracks. Melody-wise there are distant echoes of Dubstar comparing notes with Drab City. A refreshingly unexpected finale to a bristling, burning bush of an EP; packed with great tunes, sizzling arrangements and Keeley’s unique, engaging voice.
Marjorine hails from Brooklyn in New York and his track Salton Sea is a slightly mesmerising piece of Psychedelic Alt Pop mostly based around a repeating guitar riff and male vocal melody but with various other features coming in and out of the mix including a deliciously loud upper register version of the main theme played on the guitar in the latter stages of the track. Shades of Beck in a jam with The Stone Roses while Bombay Bicycle Club provide notes, A track that is lifted to greater heights thanks to smart arranging and a great sense of the contrasting sounds that keep my interest.
Talking of intelligent Psych Pop, the ever-consistent China-based Welshman Blokeacola has another new single out. With barely time for the smoke to clear since Mango Insane, we have Slow and Steady. Mid-tempo rather than slow, it is otherwise very steady, revolving around a few repeating phases that are cleverly broken up and presented in different lengths and configurations. All the while the melody is constant, harmonised to just the right degree and supported by punchy but also slightly trippy guitars, synths and beat. Shades of Super Furry Animals in a mash up with Tame Impala while Unknown Mortal Orchestra drop round for tea. Like all Blokeacola tracks, the arrangement is thoughtful and filled with little nuances and sparks. And of course it has a tune you will find yourself singing as you make your next coffee or tea!
Palace Cats return with another dreamy retro synth and guitar-soaked Pop tune. Chuck me in the river looks back a little less far for inspiration than some of their tracks but there is an 80s vibe; the reverberant synth playing sweet melodies with shimmery strummed guitars and generally solid instrumental work plus rich echoy textures. The song structure and melody are a kind of classic Pop that hints at a number of stops along the evolutionary path. They may or may not include The Beatles, The Go-Betweens, Neil Finn and Bon Iver among a host of others. There is an unmistakably contemporary aspect to their melting pot of pristine pop polish mixing it with a more earthy Alt Pop edge. It’s melancholy for sure but summery too and most appealing.
I am not going to partronise 17 year old Irish (Cork) singer-songwriter Mel Maryns with any ‘good for her age’ type comments since there are plenty of 17 year olds who are highly accomplished musicians. But I am a little bit impressed with her for getting her catalogue together and putting her music out there with polish and professionalism as demonstrated on the driving energetic Alt Rock of Ghost In Town. The guitar parts are nicely balanced between fuzzy shord play and more melodic riffing while the accompanying beat and bassline keeps things appropriately simple, enabling Mel’s expressive voice to dominate the centre of the track. Shades of Avril Lavigne mixing it with Phoebe Bridgers while Lia Metcalfe of the Mysterines adds spice. It is rock in the sense that it is powered by slightly dirty guitars and insistent riffing but it is pop too because it is ultimately very tuneful and catchy.
One small moan is that Mel has shared such a plethora of other artists’ tracks on her Soundcloud page that I gave up trying to find this one (despite it being her Fresh on the Net submission) and had to use the direct track link from our submissions page to find it. I would advise getting shot of all those tracks (or putting them on a separate page linked to a different email account) and focusing this page on just Mel Maryns tracks. Otherwise there is a risk that it will turn potential reviewers, playlisters, radio show hosts or promoters off. But otherwise, a crackling, sizzling dish of Alt Rock intent with a large dollop of pure pop to round off an irresistible main course.
I am always grateful to be recognised and supplied with free daily content by Record of the Day who send me so much new music, usually by artists operating somewhere between grassroots and the pop mainstream. Mazy Haze is an American artist signed to Lustre Records whose press blurb describes her music as Dream Pop which it loosely is. Sad Lonely Groove is lightly funky and more programme-driven, leaning strongly into synth-pop. It doesn’t sound particularly sad though! If anything it has a lazy summer evening sensibility that is quite inviting. Her voice is slightly sleepy and certainly distinct. Sad Lonely Groove has an attractive melody and, when Mazy rises up the register in the chorus, we hear another quality to her voice as it notably shifts up a gear. If ever Angel Olsen were to collaborate with Widowspeak and Jockstrap happened to drop by for a few hours, it might end up sounding something like this. And that can only be a good thing.
Californian artist Shayne Dalva was enjoying a career in classical and operatic music prior to the COVID pandemic. Circumstances led her to launch an alternative career as a writer and artist inspired both by her classical background and the classic elements of popular music from every era. Such an ambitious combination of influences might partly, at least, explain the expansiveness and individualism of Love is hot, love is cold. Slow tempo with piano at the heart of the arrangement, this would have gone in the Synthematic section of this blog were it not for a lack of prevalent synths (other than where the synth is used to simulate strings).
What we do have is Shayne’s impressively powerful and perfectly controlled vocals that simply fill the room with long legato tones bathed in a semi-psychedelic melody and backdrop that begins and ends with the sound of rain and strings playing a melody over a series of piano chords which then become more constant in 3/4 time as a haunting melody has vocals playing off against the strings before harmonies add a further ghostliness [as do the unison voice and strings themes]. Everything about the track is striking, distinct and epic. The way the melody moves often up and down in semi-tones and the piano switches from major to minor with occasional diminished chords all adds to the disarming atmosphere. And then it is over just as we are getting used to being in it. All of which, of course, leaves me wanting more of this dark but refreshingly original music.
Dubliners Havvk return with another excellent track in the form of Automatic. A slower number, it contrasts understated, softer verses against a full-on Grunge chorus that has more than a passing hint of The Pixies in a mash with Death Valley Girls while The Breeders and Drab City drop by. The utilisation of reverberant guitar jangle in the verses provides the perfect antimatter to the fuzzy, string-bending abandon of the chorus while Julie’s voice adapts to every dynamic with trademark ease. A typically top-notch track from a steadfastly belting band.
What an intriguing artist and band T@NE is/are. Based predominantly around the writing and instrumental talents of Brooklyn-born New Yorker T@ne (not sure how we are pronouncing that - Tane? Tone?), they are a band whose track Autumn demonstrates a significant Prog influence; in particular recalling Gabriel-era Genesis with strands of Yes, Jethro Tull and King Crimson lurking in the shadows too. At the same time they have a Hip Hop element [although not on this track]. T@ne’s voice, when he rises up the register, sounds uncannily like Robert Wyatt so now we bring in Canterbury scene too! And, in amongst all this sophisticated instrumental play and clever key modulations, there is also a modern cinematic synth-pop aspect to their sound that has shades of Everything Everything and Vessels among others.
And just to confuse matters further, T@NE has hit us with a superb contemporary jazz exploration with elements of Drum’n’Bass entitled Thoughts which actually belongs in the Jazz & International Journeys section. Pat Metheny in a jam with Jean-Luc Ponty and Mike Stern perhaps.
Anyway, what you need to know is the song Autumn is a lovingly crafted piece full of unusual changes, melodies that have a folk and classical edge to them and an approach that underlines the value of attention to detail. Given that he performs with a full quintet of musicians (T@ne plays Saxophone in addition to his singing and rapping), I hope very much that they will make it across the Atlantic and give us the opportunity to see them live in the UK. This is, without the tiniest exaggeration, quite outstanding.
Newbury in Berkshire is home to Ocean Ruins whose track Teen Drama is driving, uptempo Alt Pop with a striking female voice that sounds like a slightly accented Chrissie Hynde in a mash with Courtney Barnett while Bloomers jam with The Primitives. Tuneful, very slightly melancholic, it succeeds in delivering a catchy and engaging pop track without losing the fuzzy guitar-led infusion of raw bristling energy that adds so much weight to its appeal.
Bristol’s Shoun Shoun are back with the track Follow me. It finds Annette and co in dark, disarming mood and slower tempo. The tremolo violin sizzles and hisses over a lovely live and lively drum sound and style, deep bass, dark keyboard figure and fuzzy guitar lines. Annette’s vocal performance has a hint of Bjork when she rises up the scale and exaggerates the pronunciation of certain words or syllables. I also hear hints maybe of Lia Metcalfe and Kim Deal in her lower register. Follow Me is a track that teases, taunts and captures the band’s energy and power really well. And like all their tracks, it is unpredictable and appealingly wonky.
Part of that appeal, as this track reminds us, is in their ability to fuse together a kind of apparent controlled cacophony and yet enable us to hear every individual timbre striking out with distinct and contrasting lines. Meanwhile, Annette’s agile and intense vocals lead this renegade band through the forest and into the clear air. Shoun Shoun are a band who will be relieved to be able to take their music back into the live arena and, as this excellent track reminds us, they mean business.
Leeds quintet Venus Grrrls are, judging by their profile pic, five young women who make a loud, joyous noise with strikingly edgy and powerful lead vocal riding atop a wall of fuzzy guitars, busy bass and punchy drums. So it is with their new track Hate Me. Described on their Facebook as an ‘alternative all-girl band’, their sound is full-on and melodic, catchy from the outset with the raw power of early Elastica in a mash with Honeyblood and the rock sensibility of The Runaways jamming with The Mysterines. Okay, that’s enough female Alt Rock comparisons for one review. The important point here is that Venus Grrrls have a sound that is distinct and fresh. Sizzling like an unattended pot of boiling pasta and bristling with burning energy, theirs is a sound and aura you will find it very hard to ignore.
The new single by Londoner Cilla Raie is a collaboration with American artist Tiffany Evans. Open for love is a smooth, dreamy R’n’B track in which synths and programmed drums allow plenty of space for the two singers to dominate with a soulful, soft but assured performance. Sensual, agile and infectiously melodic, lifted further by the combination of fine voices.
Oxford-based artist Chiika has a slightly sleepy but appealing vocal style that has shades of Ms Dynamite in a mash with Kele Le Roc while Poppy Ajudha adds spices. The song 22 (Freestyle) is mid-tempo sassy R’n’B with an almost conversational element but it is catchy too and announces Chiika to us as an artist developing a distinct style that bodes well going forward.
I hesitated before reviewing Mei in the Urban Flavas section because See Us is such an individual track, reinforcing Mei’s claim to make Alternative R’n’B. Really this is urban in the sense that it has a syncopated, soulful R’n’B vibe at its heart and then frantic rap accompanied by a complete change of mood and tempo over the final section. But it is also epic, cinematic and visceral. Mei’s vocals are commanding, compelling. ‘They don’t see us/We don’t make them see us’ she sings before the rapid-fire rap in the closing section enables her to spell out her rallying call to black women wrapped up in a warning to those who choose to be blind to racism and the murder of young black men. Broadly speaking, maybe imagine Angie Stone and Jill Scott in a mash with Sia and Solange plus a bit of Little Simz mixing it with Flohio. Actually that still only vaguely gets close to an analogy for this unique artist. Better maybe just to listen to and lose yourself in the power, passion and logic of this fine track.
Chima Anya keeps up his high standards with Giants. It’s a collaboration with Soul Chef which is, on the one hand, very much based in Old Skool culture and style but with a host of interesting sounds coming in and out of focus while Chima delivers a clever rap about the ‘giants’ who are taking more than their share of the things we all need. The giants in the track are intimidating figures from whom there is no adequate hiding place even though they may be invisible to us. It includes the big internet corporations and all those who can see us wherever we roam and want to control every aspect of our lives and decision-making. Scary stuff because there is an acute sense of powerlessness as you consider what he is saying. Perhaps even if I consider that this blog is able to exist in its current form due to technology owned and supplied by a giant! The backing track, meanwhile, is fluid but funky allowing the track to sit in a cool consistent groove. All done with a generous portion of pizzazz.
Bronx Slang return with Jane, a tragic tale of a girl corrupted from young by the reality of street life. Once again it is essentially Old Skool Hip Hop but this time it is infused with a funky Latin vibe which is further emphasised by the female voice that sings the hook with Spanish language references playing off against the earthiness of the rapped verses. Cool, clever and thought-provoking.
Recent Fresh on the Net favourite Inder Paul Sandhu’s Letter To Self come from The Colindale Tape. It is a curious but appealing throwback to a Bluesy Soul style that is one part early Al Green jamming with Robert Cray plus guitar licks from Jeff Beck but also has jazz-infused chord changes that take it off in a whole other direction. His vocal is gritty but rangey and his falsetto is genuinely spine-tingling. A fascinating and highly enjoyable hybrid of Soul, Blues and Jazz. One of the nice surprises in this month’s Fresh on the Net in-take.
Londoner Ransford Just Flo aka R.J. Flo is in jazzy Soul mode with Happy Days. Bendy, squelchy synth chords play off against a busy funky bassline and crisp beat. The vocals mostly repeat the words ‘hey, real good’ but with a particularly soulful flourish while spoken word comes in and out of focus behind him. It could almost be post-club downtempo chillout were it not so jazz-infused and sugary sweet. Ransford’s agile baritone range voice is the exquisite topping on this fine dish.
Raquel Martins is a London-based artist and Show me is smooth sophisticated Jazz-infused Soul with a funky, syncopated beat, rich bendy electric piano chords, picking guitar and clever bass. Raquel’s vocals have an agreeably tough edge like Angela Jaeger in a mash with Juliet Roberts. When she sings along with the solo guitar, it is spine-tingling where a lesser artist might have come across as clichéd doing the same thing. The open fifths figure in the bass and acoustic picking bring a distinctly Latin vibe to the final section. All round absolute class. And I see BBC Radio 2, the nation’s most popular station, has given it a spin too. Exciting times.
Irish singer-songwriter Ruby Ivy spent the lockdown in Cork being creative and now follows the success of her single Fault Line with a dynamic slice of R’n’B-Pop entitled Made to be yours. Lush chords and polished instrumental play provide a perfect backdrop for Ruby’s soulful, dexterous voice which duly delivers the appealing melody before gradually increasing the range of flourishes and ad libs that take the whole thing up a notch. There is enough sass and attitude here to connect with a more urban audience but it is also poppy, catchy and yearning, highlighting Ruby’s long-held love of Soul music. It certainly puts her out there in similar territory to the likes of Jorja Smith, Cleo Sol and Yasmin Lacey as a classy singer and an artist able to traverse the borderlines between similar but distinct genres. All looking and sounding good for Ruby Ivy then.
Oxford’s Feeo has a nimble, soulful alto voice that effortlessly leaps and swerves around the short sweeping synth chords, jazzy piano and unexpected key modulations in a syncopated, busy and unusual track entitled Memento Mori. Latin vibes bubble up at times and the arrangement cleverly allows for breathing space, sometimes stripping down to piano and voice before the more opaque arrangement kicks in again. The buoyancy of the instrumental play, the fluidity of rhythmic and harmonic events and Feeo’s stunning vocals combine to create something pretty special.
Not strictly an R’n’B tune but too laid back for Club Culture; the new The Vic C Project track Killers blends a lightly funky programmed beat and deep bass line with attractively jazzy and sometimes dissonant synth chords. This accompanies a female vocal that I presume is sung in French although I am no linguist! Classy, soulful and yearning, it has a melancholic sensibility and keeps me engaged despite the reliance on the same four chord (or three with one slightly altered) pattern throughout. Mort never ceases to surprise but always in a good way.
Bim’s Soundcloud blurb talks about her ‘soaring Mezzo Soprano’ voice and that is very much in evidence on O.T.R [which, if you are wondering, stands for On The Regular]. Slow, dynamic R’n’B with a large dose of Old Skool about it, the song showcases the strength, dexterity and range of Bim’s impressive voice in a track that has shades of Mary J Blige in a mash with Brandy while Toni Braxton pops in. Vocal harmonies blend and overlap with expert agility and the hook keeps us engaged.
Segiri has no location listed so could be from anywhere in the world! Parallel (Tom Ferry Remix) is described as Deep House but it is very poppy and European. The beat is crisp and the sub-bass is funky while the nimble, acrobatic female vocal is put through some cool effects. It is tuneful and appealing, a floor filla but one that could easily cross over onto mainstream pop channels. The trancey synth chord riffs lift things up a notch too and the production is powerful and punchy throughout.
Monogulo is an artist I have blogged about on a number of previous occasions. The Romanian producer and artist returns with Purple Gardens 003 Live Set recorded this month and consisting of a mystical oriental sounding string melody playing over persistent beat and minimal synth tones that fade in and out of the mix, adding spacy tones and ambience to a repetitive single-note synth accompaniment. It is hypnotic and otherworldly, often leaving long periods of anticipation before introducing the next sound concept. Cleverly understated and spacious, allowing room for continuous changes in timbre and emphasis. More chill than club workout but then you could choose to dance to this for a long time if you preferred.
The ongoing collaborative partnership between accomplished producer Pimlican and young singer-songwriter Josie is great news. Not just because I manage her and Pimlican is a good friend. But because the very reason I have encouraged this partnership is that they keep producing great tracks and the new single I got a feeling is arguably their best to date. Josie’s bluesy alto voice cuts through the mix along with her familiar multi-tracked harmonies, in from the outset. Pimlican’s penchant for funky sassy keyboard chords, tough pumping beat and deep bassline is fully in evidence. It is catchy, punchy and in your face. A track that will sound great on the radio but could equally fill a club dancefloor in a heartbeat. Another banger.
It’s true that DMP Tunes may as well have a residency in this section as I have lost count of how many consecutive editions his work has now been reviewed in! But hey, he just keeps delivering great new tracks and the latest of those is Good Times (Big Tunes Records). It has the usual DMP Tunes hallmarks of big Trance-inspired waves of synths, sometimes in octaves, playing loud melodies over pulsating beat, bendy synths, 90s House-style piano chords and general washes of sound. The production and mastering are LOUD!! The second half of the track, in particular, sounds ready to tear up dancefloors and lodge itself inside unsuspecting heads so that DJs will want to play it well into the Autumn and Winter months too. Great work.
The Allergies are two guys, producers I presume, from Bristol and, in Move on baby, they have put together an uptempo Latin stomper with almost Tijuana-like trumpets, sparse spoken word in what could be any number of accents and a sound combination that could almost be Madcon in a jam with Fatboy Slim while Armand Van Helden adds spice. Relentlessly energetic, catchy and ready to fill floors in large European superclubs just as soon as that is allowed again, it has all the ingredients to become a club classic.
The singer-songwriter Abi Mia has come up with a remix of This Life. It finds her strong, agile voice effortlessly projecting an infectious melody over a backdrop of banging Euro-infused House with washes of octave-apart synth figures, persistent beat and deep sub-Bass. It has floor filla stamped all over it and is made for the Mediterranean summer scene, wherever that may be temporarily housed this year. It is also a strong radio track and a great showcase for Abi’s fine voice.
Possibly the stand-out track in this section comes from Irish artist and producer HY:LY whose track Secrets is a pulsating piece of Drum’n’Bass mashing things up with the tempo and sounds of Techno to create something futuristic and thrilling. It is surely likely to tear up the floor at a club for real lovers of electronic exploration and driving rhythms. Her Soundcloud blurb talks about a similar mix of styles and intentions in ‘... an abstract melting pot of energy’. Secrets totally lives up to that apt description.
Leicester’s Dee Panch makes electronic dance music that is punchy, edgy and has elements of Big Beat, Drum’n;Bass and Breakbeat on the track Sunset. The beat is mixed loudly and dominates proceedings while the vocals are few and repeat the same part-phrase sporadically over sparse sounds that appear and disappear like a lens going in and out of focus. It is gloriously wobbly and hits you with a continuous volley of punches like the verbal equivalent of a highly trained boxer. Worth sparring with though.
Hove-based artist and producer O-B-Tom decided, after recovering from a brain abscess in 2020, that he was changing his life and dedicating it to working on his art. He intriguingly describes new track Starsplitter (Marcus AS Remix) as ‘Acid House’, presumably thereby pointing firmly to the influence of the late 80s rave culture on this track. Don’t be fooled though. It is actually very contemporary with a punchy consistent House beat driving forward a sassy funk-gilted synth-soaked piece that bubbles with energy and attitude. Uplifting, floor filling joy.
London-based artist Ebony Buckle demonstrates a penchant for epic Pop balladry on the amazing Selkie. Story telling lyrics are set to a slowly smouldering ballad in which, by the time it hits a dynamic climax in the last third of the track, we practically have full theatrical orchestral arrangement, multi-tracked harmonies and Ebony’s shudderingly powerful, expressive voice shining through this elaborate mix. With plentiful contrasts of texture and tempo, this is a highly satisfying piece that has everything you would want from a modern Pop ballad.
Somerset-based singer-songwriter Sharon Lazibyrd is a regular in this blog, usually with her powerful voice and multi-instrumental skills being put to use on Folk-based organic tracks. So Moving On is something of a departure. It deals with very real pain and the rap/spoken word section that opens the track is courageously honest and raw. The rest of the track has Sharon in quieter voice, the melody lines floating above a Trip Hop-infused backing track. It is rueful and dark but touchingly soulful and beautiful too. Brave on all counts, it really works.
The absence of links or even a blurb on the Soundcloud page of Annsofie Salomon means I can tell you little about her except that, in Ocean Shell, she has created a slowly building intensity that perfectly fits the yearning fragility of her highly distinct and endearing voice and vocal delivery. The combination of organic sounds, piano providing the backdrop for the first half of the song, with the more electronic and ambient ones that join along with drums and cymbals in the latter part of the track, is beautifully crafted and executed. Meanwhile, for all its apparent brittleness, Annsofie’s vocals reveal a steely self-confidence and power that is not the tiniest bit diminished by the sudden filling out of the instrumental arrangement. Dare I say I hear, in an odd way, shades of Ellie Goulding mixing it with Mazzy Star while Beth Gibbons joins in. But ultimately this fine track is too distinct for direct comparisons.
Gemma Rogers is another genre-defying artist so Singer-Songwriters seemed the best section in which to review her track Good day, Bad trip. To be fair, it sounds quite cheerful for a song about a bad trip. A lively tempo with plenty of guitar jangle, driving 4/4 beat and rich vocal harmonies all allow Gemma the space to deliver an appealing melody and reflective lyric. Comparisons are hard but possible shades of Samantha Crain jamming with First Aid Kit while Ruth Radelet gatecrashes proceedings. Certainly it is a jaunty, catchy and energetic track that is highly likeable and listenable.
Born and raised in Worcestershire where he continues to live, artist Alex Lleo has taken inspiration from that area and his connections to Scandinavia. Now he has delivered a stylish laid back track in Calibrate. In one sense it has a throwback element, recalling some of the classic Rock crossover tracks of the seventies and eighties. But then it has a Soul-Gospel aspect with the repeating choir-like vocalising and a rich arrangement which grows in layers. Another surprise package in this month’s in-box; a good balance of contemporary and retro helped in no small measure by the quality of Alex’s voice.
London’s ‘Cinematic Future Pop’ warriors Talk In Colour join forces with producer and remixer Jay Chakravorty on the infectious, funky and synth-soaked For The Night. Yearning female voice is accompanied by layers of cinematic synths, big reverberant beats, melodic bassline that picks out some cool chord inversions and a lovely melody. The track is full on, punchy and dance-oriented one moment, enigmatic and dubby the next and the synth tunes are simple but lovely, contrasting the vocal hook and adding to the overall sense of agreeable grandeur and emotional power that carries this track to impressive heights. A real highlight in this month’s in-box.
The Soundcloud link will take you to Fort Hazel but it is the track Not There But Here by Lowbelly that I am reviewing here. A fascinatingly wobbly and eccentric piece of synthematic chillout music with everything from quasi-Spaghetti Western whistle to what sounds like trombone creating a vibe that is downtempo yet fidgety and intense and has some clever Trap references in the programmed beat. Unpredictable and unique, a breath of fresh air for all the above reasons.
Leeds duo Lines of Flight seem to have an unbreakable momentum behind them at the moment. Accordingly, on the back of their last two excellent singles, they have hit us with another in the form of Signs of Life. Driving Synth Pop with a slightly dark atmosphere, it sees Helen and Matthew combining vocally to deliver another strong melody with corresponding harmonies, lush instrumental arrangement and pristine production. They have subsequently hit us with the energetic synth pop of I remember everything which has shades of Pet Shop Boys in a mash with Chvrches. Matthews leads on vocals to begin with before Helen takes over in parts. Once again, effortlessly melodic and beautifully put together and produced.
Farrah and Richard from Surrey are Legue of Lights and, having caught my ear in time for the last edition, I feel compelled to give them a further mention on the back of more top tunes. First came the slower, more epic LInes in the sand. Farrah’s upper range vocal harmonising and almost mediterranean-edged melodies play off against Richard’s layers of rich synths and echoing drum programme to create a big cinematic take on modern Synth Pop. Too good not to review. They subsequently followed this with North of the Sun, a slow-to-mid-tempo track in triplet time in which sparser, deeper register verses are contrasted by a big dynamic chorus. Also Echoes of a dream which is slower, dreamier but again characterized by ambitious arrangement and production supporting lush vocal harmonies and dynamic performance. Epic and cinematic [thus synthematic] pop.
Norwich band Mega Emotion are an intriguing entity. Their new single I want so much more (than you can give) is dominated by the combination of lead male and harmonising female voice producing some sumptious open fourths and fifths among within a sophisticated vocal arrangement. Behind the impressive vocals we have big resonating synths and punchy drum programme. It brings to mind Chrvches in a jam with Heaven 17, Gary Numan and Dubstar. Brightly performed and produced and refreshingly contemporary despite references from several epochs.
Derry’s Synth & Cinematic Pop Prince Kid Apollo has a new track called To the moon and back. No, it isn’t a cover of the Savage Garden hit but they could be one of a number of reference points along with Talk Talk, The Beloved, Dubstar and others. Swirling synth melodies and chords flow, driven by programmed drum undercurrents and KA’s trademark rangey vocals which are particularly distinct and impressive when he rises up the octaves. Tuneful, thoughtful Pop with epic ambitions and polished production.
Roleplay is artist, writer and producer Anna Haara Kristoferson. Her track The pain will set me free is truly epic swirling synth-driven pop with shades of Bat For Lashes in a mash with Dua Lipa in the sense that it is uptempo, melodic and filled with layers of synth but it is not especially sugary and certainly retains an appealing edge. Anna’s vocals are expressive and dynamic with an almost Bond movie chic about her tone and timbre. One of those times that throwing everything into a virtual megamix really works. Like a good fortified wine maybe, this is pop with plenty of strength and reinforcements.
It isn’t every day that I receive a track at Fresh on the Net that features William Orbit but that is the case with Maeve and her track Jonah. You will certainly hear evidence of Orbit’s involvement in the echoing synth chords and ethereal ambience of the track; both of which are the perfect foil for Maeve’s soft but striking and whispery singing style and the song which is enigmatic and a little dark. The result is a captivating and intriguing track that instantly stands out from the crowd for good reasons.
Electronic & Ambient
The track Condition White by Yellow Belly (Bare Island Remix) is not entirely new given that it has been on their Soundcloud page for 11 months but it came into Fresh on the Net this month so is new in that respect. Condition White is an evocative, atmospheric electronic downtempo piece with deep drone synths, distant reverberant sounds and a slow, programmed beat that drops in and out of the mix. The whispery but distinct female vocal is haunting and perfect for the mood and melody of the track which is dark and otherworldly.
Since writing the above review they have submitted On & Off which has all the same qualities as Condition White along with dreamy repeated vocal lines and a nagging little syncopated riff that might be a guitar. Again it is eleven months old but new to me and certainly fresh and intriguing.
Apple Lake is the enigmatic British composer and artist whose mission is clearly to amass an impressive catalogue of soundtrack or library music. Citing influences such as Philip Glass, Kraftwerk, Chemical Brothers and Brian Eno among a longer list, I would say the track Montreal sits in ambient soundtrack territory, bringing to mind Vangelis in a downtempo jam with Floating Points while the aforementioned Eno pops in with extra ingredients. Pleasant, calming and melodic synth-dominated soundscape to chill out to.
It has been a little while since I reviewed a new track by Somasu so it was good to receive The.Final.Song which is very much at the mystical, experimental end of the Ambient Music spectrum taking us through a series of sounds that mix resonant synths with found sounds, producing slowly developing moods united by their calm tranquility. There is an underlying sense of gradual movement beneath the surface of the music, a quiet deep drone thus running throughout. Cleverly understated and lifted further by unexpected twists and turns. The way it deconstructs over the final stretch provides the perfect ending.
My long-time close friend and unique talent PaulFCook has been demonstrating different strands to his creative output since his Floating Caves album. The latest is Lips4Eyes. It’s an uptempo Electronic track with vocals multi-tracked and placed through some sort of filter. Most of the track is instrumental and we are treated to a crunching beat that sometimes drops out allowing space for other sounds to dominate, buzzing and popping synths and psych-infused guitar playing. As with a lot of Paul’s material, there are a number of little melodic themes and subtle nuances at play. Dark and a little disarming but also energetic and entertaining, it is refreshingly individual and a reminder of Paul’s versatility as a composer and artist.
I could almost have reviewed the new offering from Parity Bit in the Club Culture section since it is, in essence, a kind of post-club downtempo chillout track. Parity Bit is Simon Griffiths who, somewhat enigmatically, lists his location as the UK! On Peace Makes Plenty he is joined by a female vocalist whose voice has an aura of fragility and yet is firm, flexible and expressive. Most of the track, however, is instrumental. A consistent beat and deep synth bass notes underpin a track in which there is clever deployment of electronic noises with a razor sharpness that echoes menacingly across the otherwise relative tranquility of the track. When the vocal does join, it adds melody and agility, taking our focus off the repetitive phrases we have been listening to thus far. The emergent atmosphere is ambient but sparky and full of unexpected nuances, lifted up a level by the vocals and the edgy but point perfect production.
Uncle Kid never lets us down and Hermano has his trademarks of driving electronic and found sounds mixing it with rockier ones while this time the spoken word is in a language that assume to be Spanish or Portugese although I can’t be sure! A clever mix of pretty tunes, darker ambience and a driving repetitiveness and drone feature all contribute to a strikingly appealing track.
Viewers of my TV show Upstream might be mistaken in thinking Graham Graham Beck is a guy in a shed singing swing numbers about his Feng Shui but, as new track The Verb (To Be) reminds us, he is also capable of making intriguing intense and unusual electronic music of a kind that breaks up phrases, repeats figures [and disfigures] and never quite answers your questions in a way that is appealingly enigmatic and underlines his appreciation of nuances as being key elements of a dark and deliberately disarming soundtrack to our fears and unexplained emotions. So much so that it will make you want to listen again because once is not enough.
Channel Islands King of Ambience M Donoghue hit us with another great track this month in Universe Eyes. Slow, atmospheric and slightly dark, it has an unmistakable filmic quality and could easily be used in any number of soundtrack concepts. Like all Michael’s music, it mixes long synth tones and emergent harmony with enigmatic sounds and an innate melodic sensibility. Another fine track.
On the eve of his performance at my Vanishing Point gig on 1st July, Dan Parsons aka Amongst The Pigeons has come up with the track Bring the stars closer featuring the vocals of Emma King. It is a lively, ethereal slice of imaginative electronica with a dance-oriented beat upon which Emma adds dreamy, otherworldly and striking vocals. Arguably his best yet, it is another demonstration of what an interesting and versatile artist Dan is and, in Emma King, he has struck gold in terms of it being a great collaborative work.
Fresh from being interviewed for, well, Fresh on the Net, Kiffie has hit us with the slow-burning electronica of Calculate. Described on his Soundcloud page as an instrumental pre-release, it has a dark and slightly daunting aura with repeating synth phrase playing off against sharp beat and striking ambient sounds. It builds dynamically before simmering back down to a quieter finish. Possibly an air of Film Noir here and a little futuristic too. Or Futuristic Film Noir. Sounds good to me.
Contemporary Classical & Sound Art
I have mentioned on various previous occasions that I am among the privileged few who know the real identity of the enigmatic Minimums. Indeed he/she will be playing at my Tomorrow Calling Festival on 5th September. First though, there is a new track and Hiatus is another mystical [Eastern-influenced] track building from bell-like sounds playing a repeating pattern in 7/4 time signature against deep string tones and legato, sweeping upper strings. It has echoes of Gamelan but combining with more fluid and contemporary structures that go way beyond the broadly pentatonic undercurrent of the Balian traditions. A contrasting mid-section loses all sense of meter as strings and keyboards create deep washes of legato sound, chords forming and breaking like waves on a gentle shore before the original figure returns but now in 5/4 and with a resultant extra intensity as it drives towards a warm and more tranquil finish.
This is so beautifully scored and arranged, I decided it had to be reviewed in the Contemporary Classical & Sound Art section. Electronic & Ambient does not adequately describe it. Big daunting piano takes over the 5-note figure in octaves while synths spit out chords behind it. Each section melts effortlessly into the next (except of course, it takes great effort to make music this accomplished) and the deep string tones fade out as it ends, leaving us wanting more. Fabulous stuff. The video that I will be showing on Edition 28 of Upstream (Tuesday 6th July), with its footage of train journeys, some sped up, others not, is gorgeous too and its fluid imagery is a great visual match for this stunning piece.
Solihull’s Soundtrack Music maestro Christof R Davis has hit us with another of the many tracks on his expansive Soundcloud page. This time, in Dreaming, he keeps things simple and minimal. Electric Piano dominates the track with some exotic sounding and jazz-infused chords, glissandi and broken chords. The sound of the electric piano is naturally resonant and otherworldly making it the perfect choice for an instrumental piece about dreaming. A masterclass in the adage of ‘less is more’.
Montreal-based composer and artist Syrel returns with another accomplished soundtrack piece entitled Grandpa’s Secrets which is from The Grandparents Haunted House collection. Blending rich orchestration with contrasts between lush neo-romantic elements and sparkier contemporary writing where the harmonic language is subtler and more chromatic, it is a journey through a series of fluid musical states, rounded off with a roll on the gong. It doesn’t attempt to break any ground but it is the kind of score that will sound shuddering in the atmosphere of the modern cinema or even on your home TV’s surround sound.
Jazz & International Journeys
Glasgow, Birmingham and London are some of the cities from which hail the amazing Young Pilgrims. The nonet (9-piece) are a band who play a joyous mix of quite traditional brass and wind-dominated jazz, driven by powerful, versatile drums, roving bass and much more fluid, contemporary and even dissonant elements. On Rufio, they serve up a virtual medley of contrasting sections, shifting in mood, tempi and time signatures, blending pre-composed melodies and clever harmonising parts with effortless improvisation. So refreshing to hear a band who can mix the old and the new with such ease and infuse their music with diverse influences whilst still sounding so spontaneous and bristling with energy.
Cardiff artist Kizzy Crawford says her music reflects her own outlook and personality and the world around her which perhaps explains all the exotic Latin-infused slices of Soulful Jazz-Pop sung in Welsh like Adlewyrchu Arnaf I (Reflecting on Me) which has a couple of real Steely Dan moments with a certain three-chord figure but otherwise is a harmony-soaked slice of Soul-Pop with flavours that seem to emanate from several continents.
I’m not sure how many languages Kizzy sings in but Enquanto Há Vida, Há Esperança is a glorious pot pourri of Working Week in a jam with Grupo Niche while Sade stirs the pot but then it is also fresh and contemporary in its essence. Perhaps though, music as sophisticated and infused with unexpected chord changes and jazz-inspired exquisiteness as this is timeless anyway. Kizzy’s vocals are sensuous, smouldering and expressive, enhanced even further by sweet harmonies and rich extended chords. Musicianship, creativity and pure pop sensibilitites all at play on a true standout track.
It isn’t strictly Jazz but this feels like the most appropriate place to review the latest offering from Durham-based artist Glenn Maltman. He describes Blues for the Tyne as Soundtrack music and it certainly has the cinematic soundscape and musical ambition to be just that. But it is also full of spine-tingling Fender Rhodes Electric Piano work, extended harmonic language and rich instrumental arranging, all of which underline Glenn’s well-established talents and musicianship. This is all wrapped up within a structure that allows for striking melodies and contrast of timbre and texture. And like all Glenn’s work, it hits the mark on class and quality.
There is precious little information or links on their Soundcloud page but Afro Hamurai have hit us with a cracker of a track called April. An unusual beat, very DIY and heavily programmed, plays off against laid back soulful Jazz instrumental play in which the piano melody has almost a little of Shakatak about it and the distant echoing synth response is quite ethereal. This may well be one musician playing all the parts and certainly there are clear stylistic similarities in the piano and synth variations that dominate throughout. Funny that it is entitled April given that it so strongly evokes late summer evenings chilled out listening to similarly sweet Jazz tones with a coffee maybe or something a little stronger.
Whichever section I chose to review the new single by Gabrielle Sey in it would essentially be the wrong choice! Why? Because Patterns is a genuinely genre-defying track. So since Gabrielle’s Soundcloud page calls it World and it is infused with some pretty unusual musical language, I have opted for this one. Not that it matters. What does matter is that, from the stuttering intro and the vocals coming in over sparse backdrop, you know you are in for something special. The ensuing triiplet time rhythms, overlapping vocals put through some interesting effects that contrast the dryness of the lead lines and stressed BVs all set the scene. Descending bass figures give way to synths, the drum part veers between 6/8 and a scattergun 4/4 and the competing tracks of vocals are trippy, intense and compelling. After a couple of minutes of this otherworldly canter through contrasting states, we are treated to a few strummed chords and a soft, ethereal vocal floats towards a slow and unexpectedly translucent finish. A real wow track. Fantastic. No wonder if went down so well at Fresh on the Net.
Folk & Country Fare
Where some artists churn tracks out, often sacrificing quality in the process, Manchester’s Caffs Burgis aka Test Card Girl takes her time over putting out new material and, accordingly, when she does, it is consistenty of high quality and each track is quite different from its predecessor. So it is with the acoustic version of We’ll always be there. After the jaunty uptempo nature of her past two singles, this one is slow, folky and builds gradually from picking guitar then quiet ambient legato tones. As it develops we get haunting harmonies and a mid-range strings-like drone that provides a kind of unobtrusive axis. All the while Caffs emits a soft but assured vocal performance with a lovingly crafted melody that avoids the obvious. There is a Celtic aura running throughout the track but then there are clever devices that have more in common with Electronic Ambient music than Folk too. As always, individual and unrestrained by any needless demarcation lines. Test Card Girl strikes gold again.
Norwich-based singer-songwriter Lucy Grubb bases her style unashamedly on a Nashville-inspired Country sound as demonstrated on Waste my time. But she does it with such breezy classiness and expertise, her expressive voice and rueful melody perfectly supported by strumming acoustic, tasteful pedal steel and other organic instrumental parts. And it’s still good to hear a young artist providing new material to add to this timeless canon and putting something of her own into that process.
Singer-songwriter Tom Frances is in heavily melancholy and nostalgic mood but nostalgic not for his childhood but for three years ago! Yes 2018 is the song, a time when ‘football was coming home’ and there were long summer nights. Well maybe there are other factors at play here but the main thing is it is a rather beautiful song built around grandiose piano chords, perky guitars and Tom’s yearning voice in harmony with itself. It reminds me, in bits, of the Bellamy Brothers in a jam with Jeff Buckley while Bon Iver adds a few toppings. A heart-tugging epic Folk-Pop ballad.
The latest single by Cornwall-based Spanish-born American singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid is The Sun goes on rising. It is another track from her St Buryans Sessions and has just Sarah’s voice and beautiful picking acoustic guitar. That guitar part sounds very Joni Mitchell-influenced [or perhaps Larry Carlton on her Hejira album to be precise] which is not a comparison I make lazily but, in this instance, has genuine relevance. Sarah’s voice is so distinct and instantly recognisable that there is little point in drawing crass comparisons with others. Rich alto tones, powerful but perfectly controlled, hers is a unique talent. It is rare for an artist to have such a thoroughly individual voice but Sarah has just that and, with it, the ability to write songs like The sun goes on rising that, even presented via the most stripped down of arrangements (literally just one voice and one guitar), is able to captivate and conjure up such emotions and images. Yes, this is pretty special.
London-based wife and husband team Gemma and Nicky are Lost Chimes and their latest track is Didn’t I say which, like Sarah McQuaid’s track, keeps to a simple vocal and acoustic guitar format. The melody lines, legato and slurring upwards over picking guitar, have a strong Joni Mitchell influence making this an unprecedented two mentions for Joni in as many reviews! But I doubt whether Gemma would disagree. There is a seventies aura about the track, also at times reminding me of Carole King with its welcome edginess and perhaps even a little of Janis Ian’s story-telling earthiness. But music like this is arguably just timeless and the fact that they can hold my attention and deliver such a dynamic but controlled performance with the simplest and most organic of set-ups speaks volumes for their talents.
Hailing from Wiltshire in the West of England, The Lost Trades are a trio (two guys, one woman) whose track Your winning days (Don’t look back) blends a swinging, picking and echoing acoustic guitar figure over a solid groove while the trio spice up a sweet melody with a plethora of exquisite vocal harmonies. The jangle of the guitar figure sits somewhere between The Staves and The Byrds while the vocals are more in the area of The Mamas and Papas jamming with early Doobie Brothers while Mumford & Sons look on. But what you really need to know is it’s all engagingly mellow but with enough of an edge to take it up a level. A fresh Folk-Indie sound that will warm your heart.
There is no info or geographical location provided on their Soundcloud page but Strange Tides appear, from their pic, to be too young female artists. A bit of digging reveals they are indeed a duo and hail from Vancouver in Canada. Their new track Black Skies is an impressive work. It kicks off in laid back folky mood, shades of Lana Del Rey in a jam with Kate Rusby while Sally Oldfield drops by but, as the instrumental arrangement fills out and the rich harmonies, acoustic guitar and violin give way to crashing electric guitar chords, tough drumbeat and harder edged vocals, we find ourselves in territory that is more akin to Haim in a jam with The Staves. All the while, the melody lines are effortlessly engaging and the harmonies are spine-tingling. Indie-Folk that touches on Country Rock. Original, unpredictable and very very good.
PART THREE: OTHER COMMENTARIES
WISE UP PEOPLE: FRESH ON THE NET IS STILL YOUR BEST OPTION
About two and a half ago, I commented on a Twitter thread about the slowdown in artists submitting tracks to Fresh on the Net. Suddenly, after two years of always hitting the 200 cap by teatime on Monday (Day 1 of the in-box opening), interest had dramatically waned. I surmised that this was because Tom Robinson’s Saturday Night Show had been axed by BBC 6 Music and perhaps artists mistakenly thought he was no longer on the radio. In fact, his Mixtape Show remains their best chance of bagging airplay on a BBC national station. But it is also just one of many reasons why submitting a track to Fresh on the Net might still be your best decision as a new and emerging artist or someone whose role involves supporting or promoting artists.
A few people argued, in response to my comment, that the slowdown might have more to do with artists being busy booking gigs again following the easing of lockdown restrictions. I was sceptical about this as the need to book gigs had not affected the process in the year prior to COVID 19 being an issue and it only takes a few minutes to submit a track. Now, given that the live bookings excuse can no longer be sustained as a reason and the slowdown has actually become worse [now taking until Wednesday to reach its limit], it is clear that the two things are connected. Shame because those artists who think it is only worth submitting a track if it has a chance of a BBC national play on Saturday night are shooting themselves in the foot.
Their sudden loss of interest in Fresh on the Net as a means of gaining exposure is, at best, very misguided and, at worst, a sign of a sense of entitlement that is utterly unrealistic. In other words, the notion of unknown artists concluding that just the chance of making our Listening Post [and subsequently the fresh faves if voted into the top ten by our readers] is not valuable enough to them because only prime time airplay on a well-known BBC station is worth getting out of bed for! Whichever end of that spectrum they are on, they are wrong. Possibly even a bit deluded too.
Firstly, I accept there is no disputing the loss of a connection between the Mixtape and the opportunity of a play on the Saturday night show. Yet it remains the case that the Mixtape Show is, for 99% of new and emerging artists, their best chance of getting onto BBC 6 Music. Those who believe they can storm onto the station’s A, B or C List simply by sending their amazing track to the right people are sadly wrong. I have written about this subject numerous times.
To get playlisted for daytime rotation, artists must already have significant track records. The most likely way for this to happen is through getting strong support from their local BBC Introducing Show; playing live at a variety of venues [where that is possible depending upon the artist’s situation] and gathering a large following; working hard on social media to gain genuine followers; landing reviews in blogs and journals that have a proper readership and not just those tagged by the artist; pitching to get onto legitimate streaming playlists; getting played on internet radio shows that focus on their area of music; getting onto smaller stages at festivals and generally doing everything possible to create a buzz. Maybe then someone from BBC Introducing will put their names forward to the music team at BBC 6 Music or 1Xtra depending upon genre and they will have a chance of some mainstream airplay. But it takes time and hard work. Ask the likes of Bleach Lab, Lauran Hibberd, Cloth, Martha Hill and other Fresh on the Net alumni now enjoying the attention of Radio 1 and wider national media. Bleach Lab’s Old Ways, A-Listed by 6 Music and currently my single of the year, was a fresh fave in February 2021.
For the rest, their best chance of getting even a spot play on 6 Music and, although it means little in terms of sales or followers, having that on their CVs, is via Tom’s Mixtape Show. For more leftfield acts, there is also Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone and, for electronic dance-oriented acts, there is the remote possibility of getting on Nemone’s Electric Ladyland. Tom Ravenscroft’s show on Friday night is also a remote possibility for Alternative Music acts of various types. Otherwise, how does an artist get Tom Robinson’s attention? By submitting a track to Fresh on the Net maybe.
Oh, I hear you exclaim, but Fresh on the Net is always publishing messages reminding us that it is entirely independent of the BBC and votes at the Listening Post have no bearing on airplay; hence the futility of cheating and getting yourself banned from the platform! Yes, that is indeed the case. But Tom is a moderator for Fresh on the Net, same as I am and same as all the other moderators. That means he listens to every one of the 200 tracks we receive each week. A quick study of the Mixtape show’s playlists over any period will confirm that an average of around 70% of the tracks chosen have come to Tom via Fresh on the Net. Others may have been recommended to him by local BBC Introducing shows and a few will have caught his attention via other means. It is worth noting that Tom told us recently that, with the in-flux of new presenters on a lot of the BBC Introducing shows on regional stations, he is receiving a greater number of good quality recommendations from those people than ever. This trashes the myth that local BBC Introducing is no longer a good way to get your music heard.
It is certainly true that votes have no bearing on airplay. Tom does not pick a track based on whether his fellow moderators vote it onto the Listening Post nor on how readers vote at the Listening Post. He picks it based on what grabs his attention and which he thinks would work on his show. So Fresh on the Net is not about airplay or getting on 6 Music but it is a way you can guarantee Tom will listen to your track. So, given how artists frequently complain that no-one has bothered listening to tracks they have sent to radio stations, that is one problem they need not worry about in relation to Tom if they submit via our in-box.
But wait! I have also frequently argued that single spot plays on national radio are not worth much in terms of selling ones music or gaining new followers anyway. For those outcomes, you need sustained daily rotation, preferably alongside video rotation on mainstream music TV channels, exposure in leading journals and tracks on popular streaming playlists. That is also true. However, if you think the only benefit of Fresh on the Net is being considered for the Mixtape Show, think again.
What do you know about the different moderators and why Tom chose the individuals he did to assemble his team? A bit of research would enable you to discover that, between us, we have radio shows with reasonably sized audiences who are engaged with and support new music. Some of us are involved with music festivals and promote regular gigs. Some of us have reasonably well-established blogs about new music. Some of us write for other journals and blogs too. Some of us have popular playlists we curate on streaming platforms. Some of us have popular podcasts. Some of us are active as artists too and have other connections that enable us to make introductions and recommendations.
For my own part, I have one live and one pre-recorded radio show on Exile FM, both focusing on new music. The Saturday show, focusing on new music and interaction with listeners, is currently amassing close to 500 listeners a week (live and podcast combined) which is unusually high for a show on internet radio. I also promote 24 gigs a year at venues in South East London plus a handful of non-London dates and two annual festivals. I have an online music TV channel and host a popular twice-monthly show focusing on new music and I write and publish the most extensive blog about new music anywhere in the world in terms of the vast spectrum of genres (from classical to hardcore grime and all stops in between) and the sheer number of tracks reviewed. Well you know this because you are reading it right now!
Add to this the articles I write for Fresh on the Net, Skope Mag, Subba Cultcha, Goldsmiths University, Sound and Music and others and the artists I have helped get deals by recommending them to labels, management companies and agents for whom I could see they would be a good fit. Also my books about music, my knowledge of plugging and promotion etc. There are a lot of reasons why you might consider it worth getting me to hear your music.
I am just one moderator though. You will find similar information about all the moderators. Even those who are not directly involved in presenting shows, promoting live events, writing blogs etc. are still influential and have played an active part in nurturing talent and helping artists to achieve wider exposure. I can think straight away of two fellow moderators who are involved in significant festivals. I can think of several who have podcasts and at least one other, aside from Tom obviously, who has a weekly radio show focusing on new music. I can think of another who has a popular new music playlist and an extensive knowledge of how new technologies have changed the game for artists. Another mod now interviews new and emerging artists every week on Fresh on the Net and does not limit his choices to those who have made our Listening Post. Basically, when you submit a track to Fresh on the Net, you have no idea where it might end up. On a radio show? In a blog review? Maybe with an offer of a gig or a festival slot. Perhaps on a popular playlist.
The good news is you get to reach all these people and guarantee that those who are on moderating duty [which, for some of us, is permanently and, for others, is most weeks] will listen to it with one simple submission. So, when you take all this into account, what possible reason could you have for not sending us a track every now and then?
At the end of the day, it is a hard and sometimes heartbreaking process trying to get noticed by people who can do something positive for your music career or the music career of someone you play a role in supporting or promoting. It is a case of needing to kiss a lot of frogs to find your beautiful Prince or Princess. Fresh on the Net is not the only game in town but neither is BBC 6 Music and you should submit music to all the relevant internet media supporting your area of music, seek reviews, play gigs [if you can] and work hard to build your social media profile on all the key platforms.
Fresh on the Net is, however, a key platform for aspiring artists. By all means, submit a track with the possibility of airplay on Tom’s Mixtape at the top of your priority list. But you should be hoping to impress more than just one moderator and remember, making the Listening Post is not the only point in sending us a track. You may not see everything that goes on behind the scenes but you might, at some point, be pleasantly surprised by how it comes back to reward you.
AND FINALLY .......
So it’s been a strange kind of month in some ways. On the one hand, I staged two gigs at two South East London venues, both of which were fantastic occasions and I will be staging another tomorrow night with the third Vanishing Point to take place at AMP Studios in our beautiful and unique roof-covered outdoor space on Old Kent Road since the restrictions were first eased. That will be four gigs in two months! And then another Trust The Doc Live at the iconic Amersham Arms on Wednesday 21st July too which will be five by the time the next edition of this blog is published!
At the same time, the extension of current restrictions has been a serious headache for the venues I promote at, especially AMP Studios who have had wedding parties and similar hire events cancelled, losing them considerable sums they were expecting to receive. So now no-one is counting their chickens. It also resulted in my having to indefinitely postpone the Trust The Doc Live gig that was due to take place at More Coffee Live in Melton Mowbray where it would have been impossible to meet the social distancing criteria and still make it worth putting on a gig hundreds of miles from home. I hope we can get the event back on in late Autumn when there is greater certainty about where we are with the restrictions. Of course, no-one can be 100% sure that the colder weather won’t also bring a spike in the Delta Variant cases. But at least by then the vast majority of the adult population should have received both vaccinations. So we will see.
In the meantime, the fantastic new music has continued to come at me from all directions and this edition sees me pass 90 reviews in one issue for the second consecutive issue. I doubt it will be the last! It is a challenge to find the words to describe all this music without repeating myself but I do my best! And wow, we smashed the 19K mark by a distance on the podcast views for my radio show. It actually grew by nearly 2K in a month which is mind-spinning. I can only reiterate that I am very privileged to present a show that has become such a central part of our wonderful grassroots music community.
For all that we sometimes moan about the nracissistic and arrogant attitudes and behaviour of a small number of individuals, the overwhelming culture in our community is one of mutual love and support. And the best thing about it is that everybody wins. So thanks again everyone for all the ways in which you support new music and support me in my endeavours too. I hope you find parts of this issue genuinely interesting to read. Till the next time then ….