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 email@example.com. Please DO NOT send Dropbox links that I have to go fishing in for the right track or any other such alternative. A simple MP3 with an email is fine.
Part One: The Month in Brief
Trust The Doc Radio: What’s on and when? (Page 3)
Fresh on the Net: Standard remains so high (Page 4)
Trust The Doc TV: New Content and Branding (Page 4)
GM Network continues to gather info (Page 5)
Vanishing Point at AMP Studios on standby (Page 5)
Part Two: Reviews of New Music
Part Three: Other Commentaries
The Road Map To Live Music’s Return (Page 18)
And Finally …. (Page 18)
TRUST THE DOC RADIO: WHAT’S ON & WHEN?
February saw the Trust The Doc Radio show pass 14K podcast views (19K with the live audience stats) making it still one of the fastest growing UK shows on internet radio. As I said previously, that is testament to the wonderful independent music community that gathers around Twitter for the live show and all those who subsequently catch the podcast. It is also a great vote of confidence in new and emerging artists and their music. The best of them stand up next to current tracks by more familiar names. The show continues to see great enthusiasm for its regular features - the Track of the Week poll (featuring tracks by 3 new & emerging artists from 3 different locations); Then & Now (comparing a new release by an established act with a past classic); Trust The Doc Classic (an overlooked track from yesteryear) and the Show Closer (where listeners guess which of 9 classic tracks by a specific artist will close out the show). We are now heading for 15K podcast views! And that’s not counting the midweek Trust The Doc Extra show.
I should also mention how inspiring it is to see how the people who make up our independent music community support one another. That was demonstrated by how many people listened to my show on 20th February and then headed to YouTube for the fantastic premiere being staged by fellow listener Sarah McQuaid. Likewise the response from people wanting a chance to see the recording of the amazing Juliet & Nanette’s live stream gig, the joy expressed for Billy Brown topping the UDJ Charts and so on. This mutual love and support helps all and spreads so much positivity.
It is also a great honour that bands and artists who you might think have become a bit big to still be bringing content to my little show continue to send me their new releases and share my posts about the show. Much love and respect to them too.
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 Fresh on the Net in-box continues to hit the 200 cap [even after the removal of ineligible tracks] by late afternoon on Day One (Monday) at the latest. Such is the level of enthusiasm and kudos associated with making the Listening Post and Faves and, of course, the possibility of being picked by Tom Robinson for his shows on BBC Radio 6 Music. On 8th February it was my turn to write up the Fresh Faves reviews again and I was blessed with ten top tunes chosen by our discerning readers. You can read the article here if you are interested.
Do come and vote at our Listening Post if you can spare half an hour each weekend to browse the tracks. You can leave comments if you like but it is not compulsory. And if you are a band or artist and you make the Listening Post, please read the rules carefully and don’t get yourself disqualified as some artists sadly continue to do. Remember, when we say votes at the Listening Post have no bearing on whether you will receive airplay from BBC Radio 6 Music, that is actually the truth.
Last month I reported that there would be new content on the Trust The Doc TV Channel on YouTube soon. The delightful Sparkly Spookay is now 5 episodes into presenting a series she has put together focusing on the struggles involved in trying to be an independent music artist. Sparkly’s weekly editions hit YouTube at 8PM every Thursday and people are quickly growing to love her sweet-natured, honest personality and presenting style.
I mentioned last month that the amazing Luke Moore of Operation Lightfoot [and other busy projects], who provides the graphics and titles for my twice monthly music magazine-style show Upstream was planning to present some interviews with people involved in independent music activity North of the English Capital. That is still the plan and we hope to launch the first editions in March.
In the meantime, Edition 19 of Upstream saw our first experiment with running it as a Premiere so that the initial broadcast on YouTube (8PM, 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of the month) is accompanied by a live chatroom. This went really well so we will be repeating it for Edition 20 on 2nd March. Check the show out on the Trust The Doc TV Channel if you haven’t seen it yet. Every edition is packed with live lockdown track recordings, new videos, interviews and trailers and they all cover a diverse spectrum of the hottest new music with yours truly presenting the show and interviewing a guest each time.
GM NETWORK CONTINUES TO GATHER INFO !!!
The Grassroots Music Network is a network [as opposed to an organisation] founded by myself, Sue Oreszczyn and Pete Cogle with two primary purposes. One of those, which is currently impossible to make much progress with while lockdown continues, is to bring together people involved in every aspect of the independent music sector (artists, labels, promoters, managers, pluggers, merch makers, publishers, retailers, venues, bloggers, radio shows & stations etc.) to work more closely so that everyone can potentially benefit from making deals, identifying where to go for what they need, offering mutually beneficial arrangements and so on.
The other is to gather a huge and continuous volume of useful information, contact details, advice and resources in one central free-to-access point so that people involved in independent music no longer need to spend untold hours searching for these things online or paying for them when they are available at no cost.
Registration for the network is free and we encourage as many people as possible to join us, even if you are just a fan with enthusiasm for grassroots music. We could also do with a little help here and there so, if you have stories about good or bad examples of the information, contacts etc. we are gathering, please let us know so we can put the appropriate data on the website. We need as much info as possible to make available to anyone viewing the site.
When lockdown is genuinely over, we hope to turn our attention to organising a conference-style event with guest speakers, workshops and opportunities for networking and publicity for people working across all the component parts of the indie music sector. Whether it will happen in 2021 remains to be seen but watch this space for more news soon.
VANISHING POINT AT AMP STUDIOS ON STANDBY !!!
The much-talked-about return of Vanishing Point at our new home of AMP Studios now looks set to take place as an outdoor event (which AMP Studios is uniquely set up to convert into when necessary) under the emerging COVID roadmap rules on Thursday 6th May. The event should then continue to run on the first Thursday of every month; same as it did previously at The Ivy House. Hannya White, Tigersonic and Richard Sanderson are on the bill with one act to be confirmed.
PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC
The prodigiously talented sister act Honey Hahs continue to improve all the time. Aged 13 to 18 (or it may be 14 to 19 now), this trio from South East London, daughters of Fragile States’ Dido Hallett, have already had a past deal with Rough Trade and amassed a catalogue of self-penned songs including the latest one Starwoman. It is a slower-paced dynamic piece of Indie-ish Pop in which Rowan, Robin and Sylvie all get solo verses but it is their rich harmonies in the chorus that take star billing. Like broadly similar sibling acts (The Staves, Ward Thomas etc.), when they harmonise, it is like one really special voice split into three and with a melody as memorable as this and accomplished instrumental play, this has to be their best offering yet. And by the way, little sister Peach is waiting in the wings and has already performed and recorded with the band. So at some point three may well become four. Watch this space, ‘new music’ lovers. Honey Hahs are on a mission.
I am something of a sucker for a well-written slice of sophisticated Retro-Pop and that is just what Manchester’s Portable Radio have delivered courtesy of Hot Toddy. Constructed around seventies-styled pop piano and echoing drums, this reminds me of Andrew Gold in a mash-up with Gilbert O’Sullivan and Ben Folds Five. Honestly, I kid you not! The half-time middle eight is a delight too and the key change that follows takes it into more sophisticated territory. Alessi Bros, anyone? A touch of class to remind us that they have more strings to their bow. Somehow they manage to make this trip into pop’s distant pre-punk past sound surprisingly fresh and contemporary, perhaps due to the song’s youthful aura. Whatever! I love it either way!
Another pleasant surprise this month was a strikingly original cover by London’s RYD of the Eagles classic Take it to the limit. Bearing in mind that the original was sung by bassist Randy Meisner who had by far the highest register tenor voice in the band and rose almost unfeasibly high in parts, RYD has managed even to outdo Meisner in the high voice stakes! He gives the entire performance in a slightly ethereal falsetto range that is both unusual and strangely pure. Either way it really works and RYD wins serious bonus points for originality despite changing little about the song’s format. If you are going to modernise a seventies standard, this is the way to do it.
There were definitely a few Fresh on the Net moderators who felt an affinity to Lauren St James on her song Quarantine Crazy with its repeated line about ‘making friends with the dishes’. This bubbling, babbling brook of a track wraps up its intense theme in a buoyant blend of Pop and R’n’B that provides a great showcase for Lauren’s tough-edged, bluesy and distinct vocals. It is instantly catchy, has a lyric we can all relate to on one level or another and is made for radio. Very impressive.
Lancashire’s Grace Davies writes thought-provokingly about the human condition and her new single I met a boy online is heartbreaking. The yearning sparsely arranged (mainly keyboard chords and voice) ballad tells the tale of a young woman whose self-loathing is, in her mind, certain to wreck any relationship. In this case she ponders whether the online beau might hate her on actually meeting in person. It is painfully honest, beautifully sung in a distinct and expressive voice and has a tune that you cannot hide from. Pure pop balladry with brains and empathy to boot. Incidentally Grace has 50K followers on Twitter alone, pretty unusual for an artist submitting tracks to Fresh on the Net but great to see. Hopefully they wil carry this single to the success it deserves.
Despite COVID 19 and associated matters, the past year has been an amazing journey for the very likeable Caffs Burgis aka Test Card Girl. The Manchester artist came to my attention in Spring 2020 when she stormed into the Fresh on the Net faves with the excellent Holds me down. That, however, was just the opening gambit for a track that has proved to have serious legs, culminating in Steve Lamacq playing it on his late afternoon show on BBC Radio 6 Music and adding Test Card Girl to his ‘ones to watch’ for 2021. In the meantime she hit the faves again with the track Don’t go. To date it remains unreleased but it has single stamped all over it and according to Tom Robinson, who played it on his Saturday night show on BBC Radio 6 Music, it is due to appear on a new EP in May.
Very different from the buoyant synth-pop of Holds me down, Don’t go is almost a campfire chant, based around a tonic-dominant (I-V) chord structure with a hook so singable it would get you in your sleep if played in the room! I mentioned, when reviewing it for FOTN, that it also has a subtle Calypso element but the feel is kind of Electro-Folk, the organic guitar mixing with popping bass. It is rare to receive something like this in the in-box where the melody alone is so irresistible that I half expect to hear it turned into a football song when lockdown is lifted and I can go and watch my beloved Hornets again! It is crying out to be heard and hopefully it will get some decent airtime around the EP release. What an innate talent Caffs has for writing these memorable songs. Lammo called this one right I feel.
I am something of a fan of the Japanese artist Hodges whose inventive and accomplished Alt Pop style is very much in evidence on Cotton. He has a great flair both for appealing melodies and clever intricate layers of voices and instruments with the guitar as the primary sound accompanying Japanese-language lyrics. Always a breath of fresh air, Hodges’ latest track Cotton continues his development as an artist deserving wider international attention.
The highly likeable and talented Tom Wells is the creative driving force behind Portsmouth’s Fast Trains. Now he is back with new a single called I work in lies. Like most Fast Trains tracks it is tuneful, driving Alt Pop but the use of quintal-quartal vocal harmonies lends it a slightly Eastern aura too. Reference points here are not obvious but maybe slight hints of Bombay Bicycle Club in a jam with late era Bowie while Black’s Colin Vearncombe adds arrangement concepts. That, of course, may just be confusing and even a little misleading! It’s a great track anyway which is what you really need to know!
Broken Bear are a female duo from South London playing a fresh sounding stripped down version of Indie-Shoegaze with what sounds like mostly guitar, vocals and drums. Bleach it sounds that way and yet lacks nothing in substance, the chord changes being quite delightful and the open fifths harmonies really adding a layer of quality. A reminder that great writing does not always require a full conventional band line-up. Hints of everything from the Marine Girls and the Raincoats to LA Witch and Death Valley Girls. Breath of fresh air.
One of the most prolific artists I know is the generously spirited and loveable Nick Woodgate aka The Jojo Man Band. Brother of Woody from Madness, for whom Nick has written and co-written album tracks, he has fashioned a highly distinct sound that mixes appealing guitar jangle and smartly constructed arrangements with infectious melodies, intelligent and sometimes humorous lyrics and a vocal filter sound that he has been using on his voice certainly since he switched from recording under his own name to using the moniker of The Jojo Man Band.
Last month we discovered that Nick also has a talent for lovingly interpreted classics courtesy of his stunning cover of the Charles Aznavour hit She but he has since given us another trademark slice of post-psychedelic Alt Pop in the form of Bananas in which he responds to some samples of air hostess announcements. The tune has echoes of the Beatles in a jam with The Flaming Lips while Supergrass officiate. Joyous, melodic and full of driving positivity, another cracker from Nick.
Then, as if one wasn’t enough, Nick hits us with another one. It will be uses a rocking riff and tough beat to introduce a lovely descending chord figure and a tune that instantly has me hooked. It reminds me, in parts, of Todd Rundgren, Wings and other seventies icons but then it also has a contemporary Psych-Pop sensibility along with Nick’s trademark vocal filter sound and sustained synths. Another great example both of his seemingly effortless ability to come up with great tunes and his skill in setting them to lush arrangements and spacious production. The Jojo Man Band are coming to a radio show near you soon. 2021 looks good for Nick.
Another highly likeable and prolific act are Southampton’s Man Eat Grass. We rarely have to wait long for a new single and this time it’s the jaunty Alt Rock track Appendre par cœur. It is trademark Man Eat Grass with Tom’s instantly recognizable voice delivering a quirky but melodic vocal accompanied by first jangly then driving guitars and a high-tempo Rockabilly-style drumbeat. If The Cramps had joined forces with The Libertines and The Meteors perhaps. Well, it’s got plenty of guts and energy anyway.
The excellent East Midlands-via-London quintet Alberteen have a new album out, the trailer for which was on Ed 19 of my TV show Upstream and from it they have highlighted the track Unknown Entity. A slower paced slice of scintillating Psychedelic Pop Noir, it is filled with the most spine-tinglingly sumptuous chord changes bringing together a descending spy movie aura with a masterclass in inventive instrumental interplay and delicious harmonic configurations. Against this sits a laid back vocal and cool melody whose calmness sits well against the glorious clashes of sound that surround it. If this is a taster for the album Lowenva then it bodes very well indeed.
The excellent Newcastle-based Pillar Artists run by new music champion Jay Landman keep bringing good bands to my attention, the latest being Butterjunk. Their single Little Allen kicks off with a guitar intro that recalls the Danse Society circa 1983 but quickly develops into a slightly dark but tuneful piece of Alt Rock with an epic quality. Imagine Everything Everything in a mash with Goat Girl with screenplay by Newdad and a cameo from Echo & the Bunnymen! Okay, this is getting a bit fanciful but anyway, it is dynamic, packed with ideas and well worth you checking out.
Dublin’s Havvk are so consistent and latest offering Home is further evidence. Slow, heavy, driven by big fuzzy chords and strong distinct female voice, it nods to Pixies, Throwing Muses and contemporary artists like Honeyblood and Goat Girl. The melody is effortlessly catchy and the playing and production are loud, lively and loaded with power and attitude. A track that leaves me feeling fulfilled.
London artist Xadi is a new name to me but his collaboration with Daniel Ade on Tap Tap is a joyously intelligent and inventive slice of Grime-BritHop in which the lyrics are personal and reflective but laced with a degree of sardonic humour. This plays off against a sparse backdrop of trap-influenced beat and minimal sounds but with some haunting synths and sound filters that almost recall Coolio. The rap style is unmistakably London though with shades of Skepta in a mash with Kojey Radical. The drum programming deserves a mention too for its imaginative breaking up of the flow in all the right places. Top-notch.
Elmz XIX is another TTD favourite. The King of East Midlands Grime and Hip Hop is on fine form with Transition. Thoughtful and darkly humorous lyrics in his rapid-fire style remind me a little of Loyle Carner with hints of Flohio (if she had a male twin maybe) and a smidgin of Roots Manuva. All that has to be placed in a Nottingham-infused context though along with his sound of trap-hop beat and reverberant synth in a translucent soundtrack. Elmz XIX is one of the most exciting young Urban artists trying to break through from the underground right now and I hope he will get some serious media attention over the next twelve months.
Unfortunately the only link I can find for Kanda is for their label Jost Records. I have talked about this so many times, labels putting artists’ tracks on their own pages but adding zero information about the artists! So I can tell you literally nothing about Kanda other than that, in Hotel Bar, he/they has/have provided a swinging, appealing crossover of R’n’B and Hip Hop with sweet slightly jazzy piano chords, a melody sung in a male voice with an accent that is unusual and striking, mixing it up with triplet-infused rapping and a beat that is syncopated, drops in and out at all the right moments and has lots of hi-hat trills. The backing vocals, harmonising and spoken, are lovely and the whole thing is crying out for some airplay. I hope we will be hearing more from Kanda soon.
The amazing Liverpool artist Tabitha Jade follows up on the different superb mixes of her last single FYI by teaming up with Manchester’s Prido on the excellent Intuition. This North West fest of R’n’B finds Tabi sounding more shudderingly powerful in her delivery than ever before as she wraps her tonsils around a soulful melody, contrasted by the silky, appealing tones of Prido. Their voices are a great match and the song is at the poppier end of the spectrum with a hook that cries out to be played on radio. I am happy to say I am already playing it on my show. I hope we will see some bigger shows than mine getting behind this excellent track featuring two rising stars of UK urban music.
Cornwall may not leap to mind when considering the possible epi-centres of UK R’n’B but there is no doubting the credentials of multi-instrumentalist, writer and all-round music guy Karum aka Webmoms. The BBC Introducing in the South West favourite has teamed up with singer Sukie on the track Rice & Potatoes. It is built around a two-chord pattern played on a guitar that sounds like it has been deliberately tuned slightly offkey to create a deliciously jarring effect. If it wasn’t deliberate, it was some happy accident.
The beat is consistent and the soundscape is sparse, allowing Sukie’s sweet, soulful and yearning voice to softly disarm the hardest-nosed listener. It is simple but so successfully applied. How this didn’t make our FOTN Listening Post is slightly beyond me but taste is a subjective thing I guess. For me, one of the most striking tracks in a strong month for new music. Hence I picked it to be my Vanishing Point track on a recent edition of the Monday Night Ride Out on Exile FM and duly put it on the playlist for my own Trust The Doc Radio show last night.
Subsequently he has hit us with another collaboration (with Imagiro & Daisy Clark) on the track On my way. Again the acoustic guitar features strongly, this time playing mostly major key broken chords while male and female voices contrast each other sweetly on a melodic, soulful and laid back number. Proof that Rice & Potatoes is no one-off.
London quintet Prime Panda join the likes of Kanna and Jealous Tina as young British acts mixing gorgeously jazz-inflected Soul and Funk influences that recall past masters from Freeez to Brand New Heavies but also injecting elements of Drum’n’Bass and almost Amy Winehouse-ish edginess to create something fresh, sophisticated and soulful. This is demonstrated in spades on the excellent Beyond The Sun. The vocal actually reminds me a little of Angela Jaeger (Drowning Craze etc.) with a hint of Eirkah Badu. The playing is mouth watering and so much thought has gone into the rhythmic configurations and extended single bars that add to its appealing looseness. If this is a new wave of Acid Jazz, it promises to be one that is sufficiently distinct from the nineties model to be of real interest.
When I received the track Old Fashioned by the platinum-voiced piano-playing Londoner Yoji my immediate thought was this won’t get chosen for the Fresh on the Net Listening Post because the lyrics will be problematic. Why? Because they appear to endorse a very traditional idea of gender roles. If so, that is a bit of a shame because Yoji has a beautiful voice that oozes Soul and she can pen a catchy melody to boot. This is eminently radio-friendly and, given how she has been developing her music over nearly a decade now, catching the ear of a senior producer or two is always a possibility. In the meantime, if you are not put off by the sentiments about her man knowing how to ‘treat a lady’ etc, it’s a lovely song and she performs it with class and conviction.
I will confess that I was slightly gutted when Bristol’s Riddim Punks narrowly missed out on the FOTN Fresh Faves in the weekend where it was my turn to write up the reviews. But at least I get to review their collaboration with Eva Lazarus on the track Heavy Sound System here instead. This is the essence of what makes Drum’n’Bass so compelling at its best. What sounds like it was written as a tuneful Reggae track is transformed by brilliantly fluid and sporadic bursts of Drum’n’Bass complete with agreeable buzzes and bleeps here and there plus plenty of reverb. It has since won the Track of the Week poll on my radio show.
Against this hotbed of heat-seeking musical frenzy sits Eva’s strong, soulful voice singing ‘Give me a heavy sound system’ and similar sentiments supported by a melody made from the descending first five notes of a minor scale. The energy never lets up and the breakz just reinforce the drive. When lockdown is genuinely over this should be tearing up dancefloors in a haze of dry ice and booming bass bins.
Norwich artist Jack Breeze returns in collaboration with Gabby Rivers on the appealingly epic electronica of Home in a foreign universe. Her vocals are full of character, almost Ruth-Ann Boyle in a mash with Arlo Parks and are set against a high-tempo Electro-Tech beat and sparkling arpeggio synths. This is contrasted by long sweeping synth chords and breakz between periods of frantic activity. A highly accomplished track that shows how Jack is developing as an artist. Collaborations like this one unquestionably enhance that process.
Yes I know. Barely a month goes by without a review of a track by DMP Tunes. Well that is because he is so prolific and this month his futuristic sounding Techno tune Worlds Collide brings big octave synth riffs and buzzes, occasional spoken word drama, a consistent beat for the most part, staccato riffs and simple melodies. Once again it has the energy, power and attitude you need from a true floor filla!
February also the return of TTD regular Rezzonator. Duncan Rose, from Nottingham, makes EDM tracks in a variety of genres but possibly more in Techno territory than most others as is the case on Flow State with its cockwork 4/4 beat, popping staccato synth-bass octaves and repeating riff. Vocal samples drift in and out of focus lending the track an added air of mystique. Otherwise another cool hypnotic EDM choon from Rezzonator.
Regular TTD readers will know how much I adore the music of Chloë March. So I was doubly delighted not only that she chose to release another single All Things Good from her excellent album Starlings & Crows but that it flew into the FOTN faves in the week I was writing the reviews.
A typically thoughtful, melancholy track, it finds Chloë in fine voice, yearning and soft but assured and dynamic too. The piano part is just wonderful, making use of rich dissonances that you simply do not hear in the great majority of popular music. It underlines her classical background and penchant for creating uniquely ethereal and evocative music. Imagine if Virginia Astley and Kate Bush had collaborated with Erik Satie and Darius Milhaud! All Things Good has all the elements that I love in Chloë’s songs. Quality like this is something to really savour. Music that earns tags like beautiful and mystical. Absolute class.
The Talentbanq-supported singer-songwriter Hollie Rogers grabbed my attention when I watched her play an impressive live set at Talentbanq’s Xmas bash in Camden at the end of 2019. So it was great to hear a single recorded live at the Pool; in this case the bluesy, earthy Sinner. It’s a song that has echoes of India Arie jamming with Tracey Chapman while KT Tunstall looks on. Hollie sings in a punchy alto range, veering between strident and husky one moment, softer and more reflective the next. Mention must be made of her band too whose musicianship is spot on, gutsy and instinctive. She has since also hit us with the more Indie-Folk style Criminal Heart which sees her in broadly Sharon Van Etten meets KD Laing territory. Also recorded at the same gig, it underlines how polished her performances are that it is so note-perfect and captures the dynamism of her singing and playing. Two contrasting and impressive tracks.
We rarely have to wait too long for new music by Cholly. The [broadly] Swindon area artist currently residing in High Wycombe is generally prolific and has been even more so during these lockdown times. The new single Stepping is an uptempo piece of dark Cinematic Alt Pop in which Cholly’s trademark haunting voice and multi-tracked harmonies are bathed in a sea of synth arpeggios, counter themes and resonant drums. There is a daunting feel to the [mostly] minor key melody and chord pattern but there is also a crackling energy and intensity to the performance and production. Her ability to continue carving out her own niche as a unique writer and artist is so impressive. Hopefully 2021 will see her star continue to rise.
February also brought an intriguing collaboration between Australian artist Montage Collective (brainchild of Timo Jalkanen) and TTD favourites Machina X. It results from a project in which Timo invited others to remix his track Could have been forever. In stepped Annie and Cyrus to not just remix but add their own trademark style to the song, including Annie’s distinct and delightful vocals (mainly doubling Timo’s an octave up) and Cyrus’s interweaving instrumental ideas and pristine production. The EP contains four versions of the song, two of which are Machina X’s remixes (one instrumental). The song is appealingly melodic and has a cinematic feel, sounds swirling around in a spacious soundscape while the hook is rueful and infectious. A great example of artists coming together electronically, in this case across three continents, to produce something special.
Edinburgh’s Uncle Kid is the recording moniker of Craig Nicholson and he has been winning a lot of fans, not least from my radio and TV shows, for his dark, dystopian blend of spoken word with synth-driven brooding Electronic Pop. This is in plentiful evidence on the new EP Indistinct Chatter although there is nothing much that is indistinct in Craig’s thoughtful lyrics such as on Superhuman, a tribute of sorts to someone who loomed large in his young life. Although spoken word and story telling are at the heart of Uncle Kid’s music, there are sung melodies too and the music is intricate, inventive and moody.
Supermarket Sweep brings a dark humour to the table accompanied by edgy electronica. Hermano has shades of The Fall set against a disarming arrangement of soft bell-like sounds while opening track Lampiig uses picking guitar and cinematic strings with vocal ‘ah’s before the spoken word again takes centre stage. All in all, an EP that offers a diverse sweep of styles and influences united by Craig’s careful and slightly paranoid delivery and lyrical flow and the dark cinematic synth-alt-pop that underpins his words.
Walt returns this month with the song Stack. It finds the enigmatic Ella in melancholy mood, a sad but sweet melody adorning a mid-tempo groove and synth-driven backing track. For some reason, vocally, it reminds me a little of Tracey Thorn in a jam with Samantha Crain although style-wise it is quite unlike either, perhaps closer to St Vincent in a mash with KatyJ Pearson. Well anyway, it’s a very appealing piece of pop loveliness and that is what matters.
Electronic & Ambient
One might argue that Hannya White’s EP No Preview already received a review in Edition 52 of this blog but, with honestly no pun intended, that was a preview rather than a review; not least because I had not heard all the tracks when I wrote it! Now I have and, with the EP having been released, amid a cleverly orchestrated build-up on Hannya’s social media pages, on 23rd February, I can comment on the entire work. She is, even for those of us who [partly at least] know her, an enigmatic character so trying to drill down to unearth the emotions and intentions bubbling beneath the deliciously unstable surface of her sound is a challenge in itself. We know that she hails from somewhere vaguely Northbound and European! And, for now, she lives in London from where she can still dream of a mystical, semi-supernatural reality [as indeed many of us frequently do].
What unifies the tracks on the EP is Hannya’s resolutely original style. It is interesting that, speaking with her, she is not keen on comparisons and certainly any I make must be viewed in the context that they are based on vague similarities. With that caveat in mind, one might note a distant affinity with the likes of The Crystal Ark, Apparat and others including older ones like Brian Eno or Chris & Cosy. But she is very much in her own soundworld, mixing deep register bendy glissando tones with moments of frantic synth activity, enigmatic spoken word phrases or virtually atonal melodic phrases, sometimes repeated and sometimes appearing and disappearing fleetingly. I have said before that she manages to strike an intriguing balance between the playful and the disarming; the tranquil and the tempestuous. She also has a liking of rhythmic juxtapositions between sustained synths and bursts of almost arhythmic drums. Ligeti would surely have approved.
Be my friend is a good example of how, on surface level, Hannya invites us to come and play while we then hear hints of less salubrious goings on in the high-rise blocks across the way. Callin’ is, according to Hannya, more personal, underlined by the phrase ‘I and me’ which repeats at times. The intro is bonkers, an electro-synth fit or frenzy, but it gives way to warmer synth tones and more disorientating glissandi. No Preview, the title track, also offers a good deal of warmth but there is a daunting dystopian feel about the bends and curves in the synth and the half-whisper of ‘... and nobody f***ing cries’. For you, without love reinforces her claim that these are ‘love songs with a little portion of hate’! So too does the bonus track More than anything else [only on the Bandcamp version]. Here she almost taunts us, amid circular piano and synth patterns plus typically unstable rhythmic fluidity, repeating the words ‘Love you’ and a lot of scarcely audible lyrics that leave us pondering the question: How much is love? How much is hate? Ha ha, well you decide!
All in all No Preview is an astonishingly assured and refreshingly reference-free piece of work that sets out Hannya White’s stall as an artist ploughing her own furrow. It won’t be to everyone’s taste and that, for sure, is just one of its strengths! But there will be plenty of us who get Hannya’s music and will want to keep coming back to this lovingly crafted and endlessly listenable work. The fact that, in the past eleven months, she has bagged airplay on BBC Radio 6 Music, Resonance FM, Exile FM, Calon FM and stations in Paris, Berlin, Brooklyn and LA [plus some glowing reviews] speaks for itself. Watch her audience grow as more people discover her wonderful music.
Helefonix is Helen Meissner (or Froggat when using her married name), the artist formerly known as MidLife Mix. She traverses the boundaries between electronic, ambient and classical music and her new EP Orchestral Manouevres is a prime example of this. Strings are used in a quite conventional way with subtle Baroque and Classical influences nestling among the more contemporary reference points. These play off against futuristic synths and bleeps in a melting pot of sounds and ideas that offer a refreshing variety across the four tracks. My favourite is the final one, Reconnection, which brings all the key character traits in Helen’s music together in one fluid but life-affirming finale. As with everything she does, the EP is full of invention and packed with contrasting ideas. Helefonix is a name you’d better get used to hearing. And if you listened to my radio show yesterday you will know about her extraordinary Song Thrush Serenade featuring real song thrushes in full voice surrounded by Helen’s music.
Contemporary Classical & Sound Art
I am not sure that S J Williams would necessarily see his People have power as contemporary ‘classical’ but it’s one of those tracks that is hard to pigeon-hole. Maybe it belongs in Electronic & Ambient but I felt the construction of the music had a classical character and it is no surprise that he is both a classically trained musician and a flautist.
Now the Londoner has turned his attention to creating slightly otherworldly soundtracks to a struggling post-millennial planet in which he builds from sparse monotonic and sampled spoken word beginnings to a mix of legato saxophone, sustained synth tones and emerging harmony that is essentially tonal but with sufficient suspended and extended chords to lend it a futuristic feel while the vocal melody lines are simple and pure, almost choirboy-ish. Behind this, the sampled spoken word continues, sometimes echoing, sometimes clear. It is effective both in drawing the listener in and in setting out its straightforward but somehow important message. One of those tracks you want to keep listening to.
Montreal’s Syrel has come up with a gorgeous piece of slowly developing ambient classical music entitled Catalani meets Morricone. Despite this explicit reference to the two figures who inspired the piece, it doesn’t actually remind me especially of either. The long sustained drone-like notes that overlap to produce fluid chords have shades of late era Peter Maxwell-Davies mixing it with Angelo Badalamenti while involving fleeting moments of Sibelius (the composer, not the software!). It is a track I cannot help but listen to from start to finish and its evocative sounds take me away to high cliffs overlooking vast expanses of clear water and remote landscapes.
To compose like this, despite the simplicity of the harmonic language and long legato tones, requires real skill and the results are stunning. Contemporary Art Music snobs will hate it but hey, we can’t live forever in 1975 guys! This is genuinely contemporary and life-affirmingly beautiful too. It is of little surprise that, despite the name being derived from ‘a Symbolic Reliability Algorithm’, Syrel is an accomplished orchestral and soundtrack composer.
The Exter-based pan-African collective Dakar Audio Club are back with another infectiously hypnotic and edgy take on Afrobeat mixed with Afrojazz entitled Lines in the Desert. They have an incredible knack of mixing their lilting funky playing style and classy vocals with a slightly lo-fi production style that seems to underline the sense of driving along dusty desert roads, the radio playing in the heat and haze of the Senegal sun. As always the hook hits you first time and the vibe is upbeat, uplifting and ready to party. Time to get your groove on and imagine a post-lockdown celebration of fine food, drink and dancing with music like this that puts a smile on your face.
Shanita hails from Manchester (actual name Shanita Lee) and makes very cool ambient-leaning jazz-infused tracks in which her light-fingered, skillful keyboard playing and composing skills are the key elements. This is the case with Nostalgia, an interesting title given that there are echoes of artists like Joe Sample (The Crusaders) and Bill Sharpe (Shakatak) mingling with a contemporary style of drum programming and production that nods to downtempo EDM. Music to chill out to after a long night’s partying (or, in lockdown, virtual partying perhaps).
I have not previously come across Don't Problem but unfortunately I can tell you nothing about them as they are on a Soundcloud page belonging to their label Musica Macondo and all the info is about the label, not the artists. Nevertheless their track CD’s Lament sounds like one of those thundering sixties/seventies soundtrack pieces played by a full orchestral band that could be the theme to a popular detective series or a Gerry Anderson classic. Big brassy melodies, contrasts of timbre and texture and a buoyant jazz-based big band sensibility all make up this excellent track. I want to believe they perform with a big DP symbol on a display like one of those classic orchestral bands of the past! A total breath of fresh air and good to hear there are still large ensembles who can cut it with such class and keep their members together in challenging post-digital times.
Folk & Country Fare
It is always good news when there is new material from Hertfordshire-based singer-songwrtier Lizzy Hardingham. So it is with her latest single Orpheus. Characteristically organic with shimmering guitar and passionate vocals, the melody is strong and burrows into my brain in no time. If you are not familiar with Lizzy’s work, she has a voice which is so shudderingly powerful, it can be overwhelming. I imagine the biggest baddest muthafreakers (if I could borrow a term from my close friend Paul F Cook!) being reduced to a blubbering mess of tears as her emotionally-charged vocal cuts through their guard and floors them with effortless grace. Lizzy has been building her reputation on the Folk and general new music scene for a few years now and must be itching to get out and gig again. In the meantime, enjoy this welcome reminder of what an absolute talent she is.
Lizabett Russo’s track Two Hands Together drew an enthusiastic response from Fresh on the Net moderators and readers alike. The Scottish-based artist comes from a Romanian background which has helped her develop a fascinating hybrid of Folk and Traditional styles from across territories mixed with elements of Jazz, Pop and other flavours. Two Hands Together has a compelling ambience that builds in dynamic while her agile and expressive vocals lead us on a mystery tour of rich musical heritages and imaginative arranging skills. There is an undeniable mystique about this track that will make you want to listen multiple times.
THE ROADMAP TO LIVE MUSIC’S RETURN
This week has seen the long-awaited announcement from the Prime Minister about the roadmap back from lockdown to the return of live music. Here is my understanding of what we have been told.
Step 1: Monday 12th April - Socially Distanced Events
Outdoor only, tables of six or two households, 2 metres apart, masks on when walking between tables etc. & table service only.
Step 2: Monday 17th May - Reduced Capacity Events
Outdoor events at up to 50% normal capacity. Max: 4000 people (including staff, performers, promoters etc.) & Indoor Events at up to 50% normal capacity with 1000 maximum.
Step 3: Clubs & Festivals + venues in general
All the above are likely to be subject to certain controls such as Track & Trace, vaccination certificates etc. and rules on social distancing, mask wearing etc.
So good and bad news. On the down side it may be late May before we can put on a gig in an indoor venue and even then under strict guidelines. Also, April will only see the reintroduction of live music in outdoor settings which, in erratic weather conditions and low night-time temperatures, will mean attendees needing to consider carefully what they wear etc.
On the bright side, the one gig I managed to stage in October 2020 (sandwiched between two long periods of inactivity for live music) was under Tier 1 conditions with tables of six, masks for moving about, table service and reduced capacity but the atmosphere in the Amersham Arms was electric and we had a fantastic night. Also, we at least have a timeline against which venues, promoters and everyone involved in live music can begin planning again. And that is something we seem to have waited an eternity for.
AND FINALLY .......
So Spring is almost upon us and, for now, the lockdown blues continue to haunt us. There is, at least, light at the end of this global tunnel with the vaccination process in full swing here in the UK and the above-mentioned roadmap out of lockdown. I am one of the lucky ones who has had a first jab (mainly due to being 57 and both asthmatic and diabetic, thankfully mildly so these days) while my wife has trained to be an NHS vaccinator doing long part time shifts. I am also very fortunate to have the support of the Arts Council of England and National Lottery regardless of whether I am able to actively promote live events and that means I can pour my energies into other ways of providing maximum exposure and support for new music while we wait for confirmation of the reopening of venues.
In the meantime, I have been buoyed by the growing interest in Trust The Doc TV and how the expansion in programming is bringing more people into the fold. The premiere of Edition 19 was a blast with its lively chatroom buzzing throughout the hour of initial broadcast. We will do this for every edition from now on. I am also always delighted by the loyal support for my radio shows and the amount of good quality content being sent my way every week.
Lockdown has meant many things but, from a musical perspective, it has mostly led to an increase in all-round creativity. As I always say, new music never sleeps! Until the next time folks. Take care, stay safe and keep supporting new music. Neil xxxx