Fresh on the Net back from GIGSoup put Neil March and Tom Award-winning Year End for the
Xmas & New Year Break Houston on Alternative Playlist amazing Machina X
January saw the implementation of the strictest COVID 19 rules yet, putting paid to any hope of live music in that month or February. Still, at least we had the opportunity for lots of reviewing of the year in music. That included my 2-parter Best Of 2021 on the Trust The Doc Radio Show which went out on Boxing Day (pre-recorded 3 hour show) and live on Saturday 2nd January. My Top 30 singles by established artists saw Arlo Parks at No 1 with the brilliant Black Dog while album of the year went to Julianna Barwick for Healing is a miracle.
The award I was most excited to give though was my New & Emerging Artist of 2020 award on behalf of Trust The Doc Radio and Exile FM which went to the amazing Burma-Sheffield electro-future-pop duo Machina X. Coming on the back of an award from Radio Wigwam, it underlines how impressed I am by the originality, distinctiveness, quality and consistency of their work. Cyrus’s meticulously produced backing tracks and the fluidity of his ideas play off perfectly against Annie’s yearning, passionate and yet playful voice, lyrics and melodies. And the songs are so good too. Congratulations to them both. Hopefully 2021 will be an important year for them. Proof that working on music across continents is no impediment.
January also saw the return of Fresh on the Net after nearly a month’s closure for Christmas and New Year. As expected, the moment the in-box reopened, it was a deluge as bands and artists rushed, Black Friday-like, to get their tracks into us. In theory the in-box can open from Monday to Thursday but we were closed by Monday lunchtime as we hit the 200 track limit at just shy of 1.30PM! That was on 11th January and the subsequent weeks have all been full on too with so much great new music for us to moderate before putting a selection of the best tracks to the public vote.
On a personal note, I have been buoyed by the media interest in my own Alternatives To Despair (EP) with great reviews in the likes of Rockdafuqout, Curious For Music, Flex Music Blog, Music Trails, GetItShared, GIGSoup and Medium. GIGSoup have also placed my track Alternatives To Despair (Part 3) on their Alternative Music playlist on Spotify alongside a bunch of other cool artists that include another Trust The Doc stalwart Tom Houston. Big thanks are due to the amazing Anna Christina at Decent Music PR for the sterling work she has carried out in promoting the EP. And thanks to Tyler Cressman for also putting one of my tracks on his Alternative Music playlist on Spotify.
In this edition of Trust The Doc - the original use of that name and the spring from which the radio show, TV channel, playlist and live events series all emerged - we have another load of reviews of some of the best new and emerging artists’ tracks across an almost unfeasibly wide spectrum of genres. Take a look at the Contents Page to see the different categories and what else is included in this edition.
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 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: Back in the new music swing (Page 3)
Trust The Doc TV: New Content and Branding (Page 4)
GM Network targets scammers (Page 4)
Vanishing Point Update (Page 5)
Part Two: Reviews of New Music
Part Three: Other Commentaries
And Finally …. (Page 17)
TRUST THE DOC RADIO: WHAT’S ON & WHEN?
I took the decision in January to pull the plug on the month-old New Music Playlist show, a pre-recorded 2-hour podcast broadcasting twice a day on Sundays. It was clear that artists were not able to put their energies into spreading the word about this show. It had been intended as a means of providing them with repeat plays but, with so few listening, those repeat plays would not be worth the extra work involved in curating, recording, scheduling and marketing the show.
Fortunately the existing shows continue to thrive. On 9th January the podcast figures alone for the live Saturday evening Trust The Doc Radio show passed 13K (18K with the live audience stats) meaning that, in just less than a year, making it one of the fastest growing UK shows on internet radio. 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 an amazing endorsement of new and emerging artists and their music which mingles with current tracks by more familiar names and some popular regular features including a Track of the Week poll.
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 including some not played on Saturday.
Monday 11th January saw the reopening of the hallowed Fresh on the Net in-box after almost a month’s break for Christmas and New Year. As expected, the first day back saw a deluge of tracks pour like hot larva into the in-box and we had reached the 200 cap and closed for the week by lunchtime on day 1! The popularity of the platform has never been greater and its importance in objectively bringing a range of exciting new music to the attention of fans, media and others has never been more obvious. 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. That is now coming to fruition with the amazing Luke Moore of Operation Lightfoot, who already provides the graphics and titles for my twice monthly music magazine-style show Upstream set to present some interviews with people involved in independent music activity North of the English Capital. We also have the wonderful Sparkly Spookay presenting a series she has put together focusing on the struggles involved in trying to be an independent music artist. February will be a first opportunity to see how this all pans out although Sparkly’s weekly editions began on Thursday 28th January. Early indications are that people love her sweet-natured, honest personality and presenting style.
In the meantime, Edition 17 of Upstream saw another show packed with top-notch content. 15 artists supplied videos and/or live clips plus there was an entertaining interview with the amazing Miss Kitty. Check it out on the Trust The Doc TV Channel if you haven’t seen it yet.
GM NETWORK TARGETS SCAMMERS
The Grassroots Music Network has been busy in recent weeks thanks to our being alerted to a growing epidemic of sophisticated scammers ripping artists off by appearing to be legitimate PR people but taking their money to use for their own pay-for playlists on Spotify. Not only are they taking money to provide services of no value but, worse, they are causing the artists to have their content taken off streaming platforms because they have been associated with playlists that breach their rules. Some of the artists who have been targeted are experienced people who would usually be wise to scammers. That shows how slick these crooks can be in hiding what is really going on when they put themselves forward as proper pluggers.
As this and related topics to do with understanding the way plugging, promotion, PR, playlists (radio and streaming platforms) etc. work were causing such debate within our independent music community, my fellow Fresh on the Net moderator Tobisonics and I decided to co-author an extensive article giving advice on all these areas including how to avoid being scammed or ripped off. Fresh on the Net published the article which you can read here.
VANISHING POINT RETURNS AT ITS NEW HOME
It is currently my hope that the continually postponed return of Vanishing Point at its new home of AMP Studios will finally happen either on Thursday 4th March or 1st April (I kid you not!) but it all depends upon the speed and success of the COVID 19 vaccination process and when we are given the green light to reinstate live music. So keep it in the diaries for now and, as ever, Watch This Space. Hannya White, Tigersonic and Richard Sanderson are on the bill with one act to be confirmed.
PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC
HOL is, in normal non-lockdown times, a regular performer at Trust The Doc Live and Vanishing Point events. I have also had the pleasure of playing piano on stage with her. Still only 17 and now studying at BIMM, she has been making the most of lockdown, adding new chapters to her expanding story and catching the eyes and ears of Scruff of the Neck and Louder than War among others. With songs like the thoughtful, tuneful Pop of 21st Century Teen, she continues to deliver on the songwriting front while her arrangements, production and performance are all improving all the time. The ELO-ish backing vocals on this track are a nice touch, allowing her vocals to dominate. Like all her best material, it has a hook that will get inside your head and you will not be able to stop singing it.
Talking of talented teenagers West London artist Sofia Gillani is just 13 according to the blurb that accompanies her new single Ain’t a game. Yet you would not think that to hear the maturity of her vocals and the sophistication in her music. Soulful, R’n’B-influenced Pop with confident, edgy vocal delivery and a catchy chorus, it also has a clever video in which Sofia walks through a computer game before riding on a virtual cloud. If this is anything to go by, she is a serious star in the making. Sofia also has the important benefit of enthusiastic parental support with her dad Asif contributing guitar parts and acting as Executive Producer of her video.
Kiera Bickerstaff is also the Leeds artist known as Ava in the Dark and she is back with a slightly dark, intense slow burner of a track called Bad Friends. There is a slightly Southern European quality about the melody and chords while the vocals are soft and enigmatic one moment, fiery and soulful the next. The arrangement is simple and relatively sparse while the beat has a funky edge and the breaks are applied cleverly to emphasise the strength of the hook. By contrast Still is sparse and intense, a slightly shuffling beat accompanying ambient chords and melancholy upper register vocals. It ends with some dream-like tinkly piano. All very nicely done.
There is very little info on her Souncloud page so I can’t tell you much about Jenna but her song Honesty is a gorgeous, heartbreaking pop ballad dominated by her scorching, smouldering vocals and pedalled piano in arpeggio-like patterns. It builds from soft beginnings into a powerfully executed piece with a melody that is both majestic and melancholy.
It’s been some time since I heard from the delightful Chloey Rose. Now Lincolnshire's Princess of Pop returns with the slow, emotionally-charged ballad Hearts on the Line. A subtle guitar drone playing semi-quavers plays off against single piano chords and straight beat. Chloey’s dynamic vocals occupy the spotlight, reinforced by harmonies and a strong melody. It is good to have her back.
Oxford’s Low Island have wasted no time in making a name for themselves. Awarded the PPL Momentum Fund and featured by Tom on BBC 6 Music to name just two of their achievements, they make bright, synthy Pop with upper register tenor range vocals, epic production and catchy choons. This is all very much evident on the exuberant Pop of Feel Young Again although there is an air of melancholy too in the striking hook. They sound for all its worth like a band who are ready to get amongst it on mainstream radio. 2021 should be interesting where they are concerned.
The Let Go appear to be two young women from Liverpool about whom, other than location and pic, there is no info nor any links on their Soundcloud page. The song City of Angels is intriguing for the fact that it is, on surface level, punchy Synth Pop with instantly catchy melodies in abundance. Yet beneath that surface names come to mind that you would not readily associate with shiny synth-driven Pop like The Staves and I SEE RIVERS. The vocals are clear as a bell and adorned with some truly lovely harmonies in a call and response format. Well worth checking out and I look forward to hearing more from The Let Go.
Laisson Cela Entre Nous is the first single [and video] from the new album by Melton Mowbray’s finest, Project Blackbird. It is also the first release since vocalist Ming and trumpeter-keyboardist Jon were joined by guitarist Alan to form the line-up that played a stunning set at my Vanishing Point gig in December 2019, a date that was incorporated into a European tour. Now appended by Bass Guitarist Jamie, drummer Dave and various guests, the album, which I have heard, is their best work yet. Laisson Cela Entre Nous gives us a taste of the rich dub-influenced sophisticated Alt Pop that is their sound. Infused with all kinds of international flavours, it is a reflection of their collectively diverse experiences and backgrounds which include Jon playing trumpet and flugel horn with the likes of The Specials and Dandy Warhols when they tour the UK. Incidentally Specials legend Lynval Golding guests on one of the tracks too.
This track kicks off with Reggae-style horns before picking funky single-note guitar and tremolo chords lead off over spy movie backdrop. This provides an enigmatic, smoky backdrop to Ming’s soft, classy vocal which includes some beautifully executed French Language lyrics. Well, she did live in France for a few years. Appealing, melodic and melancholy, the track’s aura is somewhere between Film Noir and Spaghetti Western. Production is pristine and the playing is top drawer. It will leave you hungry to check out the rest of the album.
Dan Cross, as well as being Bass Guitarist with South East London Indie trio The Fragile States, is also an accomplished solo artist who has worked with The Breeders and Perfect Disaster. Now he has a new single out entitled Turn On. No it is not a sexual reference (!) but a socio-political rallying cry for unity that finds Dan accompanied initially by semi-classical strings before a more electronic backdrop kicks in with syncopated chord stabs and some lovely echoing synth stutters. The chorus is full on and epic, a contrast to the sparser verses and there is no shortage of inventiveness too.
Beafets are from Glasow and play melodic Alt Rock that seems somehow to carry the echoes of so many great Glasgow bands from across the decades (Teenage Fanclub, Aztec Camera, Franz Ferdinand, The Pastels etc.). On Open Letter they mix a subtly rueful melody and lowish register male vocals with shimmering chord play and a driving Indie jangle that sparkles and sparks in equal measure. There is an epic feel to the song and the spacious production complements the band’s fine performance. Life-affirming Alt Pop.
Billy Brown has spent the past year tirelessly leading from the front in bringing the return of Post-Punk band Friends of Gavin to wider attention, bagging a tonne of airplay in the process despite those allegedly supporting him doing precious little to help capitalise. So it is pleasing to see Billy strike out as a solo artist and immediately achieve success in the United DJs chart and with airplay from others, including my show and fellow Exile FM shows, Radio Caroline etc. with the melodic Punk-Pop of Alone again with you. Chugging guitar and Billy’s distinctive voice dominate the verses while the full throttle chordplay and upper register vocals in the chorus could almost be New Radicals jamming with Billy Bragg. Spirited and crackling with creative energy.
A Void are from Paris and London and play the kind of slightly intense Alt Rock that can be calm and translucent one moment and then rise up into punky vocals and fuzz guitars the next. Vocally Sad Events Reoccur Pt. 1 has hints of Skin in a jam with Throwing Muses and Honeyblood. Musically think Breeders mixing it with The Mysterines and Dream Wife if that isn’t too bizarre a mix! Great use of dynamics and a deliciously unsettling tendency to snap into anger without warning.
Staying with the European mainland Banji are from the Netherlands and they make really exuberant Alt Pop with deliciously cheesy, fuzzy synths playing off against chunky guitars while the male vocal is quirky and backed up by octave-up female vocal unisons and band harmonies on Listen. Bristilng with energy, it is a track that also exudes a sense of fun. Their Soundcloud biog calls them a ‘fresh as f**k Netherlans-based Indie foursome’. Sounds spot on to me.
Tom Mason from North Wales performs as Denuo and, on All I need, makes shimmering Alt Pop dominated both by his splendid upper register voice and some superb saxophone playing. If you can try to imagine the likes of Car Seat Headrest and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever mixing it up with Gallagher & Lyle and another Welshman Andy Fairweather Low, you might get close to the breath of fresh air that this track provides. One part retro, one part very contemporary and, in both parts, lovingly crafted and performed.
Another band with precious little info other than name and pic on their Soundcloud page, DEADLETTER appear to be a white all-male quintet who, judging by Fall of the big screen, have taken inspiration from The Fall, perhaps The Birthday Party too and contemporary acts like Do Nothing and Yard Act. They write smart sardonic lyrics and the conversational style of the vocals is backed up by powerful punchy playing and semi-dissonant extended guitar chords that have shades of Crack Cloud and Pottery too. It’s an agreeably robust noise they make and there’s a funkines about them. One to watch.
The Gorstey Lea Street Choir are the current culmination of a partnership formed in 1985! A little late to the releasing tracks thing, they have made up for lost time with BBC 6 Music and others playing their last offering. On Lowborn and Stargazing, they sit at the Pop end of Alt Pop, synth strings adorning the jangle of indie guitars and epic male vocals that have a dreamy element. Pleading, swirling Powerpop that clearly references the heroic Pop of the eighties but with a contemporary bent (and hopefully without a mullet in sight!).
Dublin’s The Crayon Set make slightly epic yet slightly lo-fi Alt Pop with female and male vocal sometimes an octave apart, sometimes less, a little like St Etienne in a jam with Hot Chip. At least that is the case on the excellent Moment. It has a chorus that will lodge itself in your head unless you consciously resist. Synthy, sweet and so tuneful. This is an absolute delight. So thought our Fresh on the Net readers who emphatically voted it into the fresh faves.
Brighton brotherly duo Barbara are the band formerly known as Big Cat and they have continued to hone their whimsical ideas-packed Alt Pop on new single BRB. In just shy of four minutes it canters through a series of mood and tempo changes from radio mic-style wartime harmony group through retro [classic] Pop with harmonies from the Ben Folds/ELO songbook(s) and uptempo ‘doo doo’’s that could be the Beatles reinvented in the image of Richard Hawley while the Divine Comedy add the trimmings. This is smart, inventive, imaginative music that packs a multitude of ideas and influences into a single track. Good to see them maintaining such high standards which bode very well for their future.
Londoners The Barbarian Horde recently appeared on my online TV show Upstream so I was already well aware that Andy Cordle and co have a penchant for writing clever whimsical Alt Pop with observationist lyrics laced with satire. So it is with the excellent A Rock and Roll Death. If Devo had been a band born of English quintessence and had teamed up with The Mystery Jets, they might have produced something close to this. Entertaining and engaging. A band worth making the effort to check out.
Punk warriors Umbrella Assassins return with the intriguingly titled Hilarious Precarious although the mood is less humorous than the title might suggest. ‘Hanging around like a bad smell’ goes the hook in a track where fuzzy guitars and smart changes of tempo and mood punctuate a post-grunge new-punk piece that is punchy and rocky. Imagine Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs in a mash with Soundgarden directed by Pixies. Well you get the picture hopefully!
Lewisham’s (South East London) The Tupelos have a liking for mixing up a bit of Americana and Folk with a very British Post-Punk sensibility. On China Skin they are in a more pensive mood perhaps, lighter textures and minor key melody while the guitars tease and jab at the accompanying bass and drums. The song is quite dark but the repeated hook of ‘We’re on solid ground’ offers reassurance too. Imaginative, inventive Alt Rock.
The Chronicles of Manimal & Samara are back not just with a new single entitled At the world’s end but an album to follow later in February too. The single finds them adopting trademark spoken word over fuzzy spy movie guitars and fluid drums while the guitars rise up into full on chords and dissonances. This all breaks down to a single guitar and calm vocal before building in intensity once again. Dynamic stuff.
The lack of information or links on their Soundcloud page mean I can tell you little about Pseudo Cool except that their track Wrong is the kind of infectiousy melodic and driven Alt Pop that sits in broadly similar territory to Honeyblood in a jam with Dream Wife while Fuzzbox officiate. Refreshing as an ice cold fizzy drink on a hot humid summer day. And yes it does feel strange writing those words in January!
London’s Beige Banquet sound anything but beige on the spiky Alt Rock of Wired/Weird. Think Shame in a jam with Crack Cloud plus a sprinkling of The DBs. This is quirky, energetic and punchy. The guitars are edgy while the band drive things along with power and an almost funky pizzazz. Vocals are tenor range, quirky, perfectly paranoid in an appealing way like David Byrne having a manic episode!
Reading up on young artist Marcus Joseph could easily leave a person feeling somewhat inadequate! The list of his achievements in such a short time already are mouth watering including his accomplishments as a young classical musician, an urban artist, a jazz musician and the recipient of prestigious awards from the likes of Sound and Music and 2Funky Arts. He has performed alongside artists of such pedigree as Angie Brown and played a live set for Tom Robinson on BBC 6 Music. These, honestly, are just some of the highlights! On Spilt Milk he is firmly in Brit-Hop territory, smart spoken word with relatively sparse musical backdrop, the focus on his lyrics. It is a track that leapt out at me when it came into my Fresh on the Net in-box on first listen. A special talent who I think we will be hearing a lot more from in the near future. Shame he narrowly missed out on the Fresh on the Net Listening Post earlier this month. The list was all the poorer for his exclusion.
It was good to welcome back The Worst Guys with, by their standards, a more laid back track entitled Never back down. Swirling strings, Disco beat with claps and catchy melody are the order of the day. The infectious hook provides the final flourish in an appealing slice of Urban Pop where the dropouts are perfectly timed and flickers of extra melodic figures come and go. Tailor-made both for radio and clubs, it ought to be put in front of the widest possible audience.
Hull’s King of Grime and Brit Hop Chiedu Oraka’s tracks are, it seems, like the proverbial London buses. You may have to wait a while but then several bangers come along in quick succession. So it seems with the latest track Helly Hansen 4. Trademark rapid fire lyrical flow in instantly recognisable accent and dialect over sparse beat and synth backdrop. Chiedu reminds us of all the reasons we shouldn’t try to mess with him, pigeon-hole him or try to be something we’re not around him. It is baffling that he hasn’t already achieved wider recognition for his inimitable and unique sound and style. Surely 2021 has to be the year when the industry and mainstream urban media cotton on to what an exciting talent he is.
Tony Njoku ft. Zoro Jackson have come up with an intriguing Electronic Grime track on Zoro in which Zoro Jackson’s intense rap is put through some sort of sound filter and Tony Njoku’s backdrop is a swirling lo-fi Electronic mix of sparse translucence and snappy beat. This is the kind of originality that keeps the urban scene in the UK a step ahead of the rest in my humble opinion.
Arnie Wrong’s Lines (Crisp & Classy Remix) is listed as electronic but it has the syncopated funky keyboard stabs and lively beat of early UK Garage while the female voice is soulful and dexterous. The production is deliciously lo-fi, the beat loud and crisp, the mix sparse and the atmosphere slightly dark and otherworldly. Big thumbs up all round.
Wolverhampton’s Cariss Auburn mixes crunchy syncopated R’n’B beat, sparse keys and ambient background sounds with a soulful, sweet vocal and some cinematic synth chords in a slow-burning, slightly filmic slice of sophisticated urban pop. Her agile voice and exotic harmonies deliver a refreshingly unusual melody supported by dynamic production. Well worth seeking out.
Chika hails from Oxford and she has a refreshingly English twang to her otherwise classically soulful voice. Imagine, if you will, Arlo Parks in a mash with Deneice Williams. The song gr8ful/h8ful is a downtempo slice of R’n’B with relatively sparse arrangement and tough beat, allowing Chika plenty of space both to showcase her accomplished vocals and add cool harmonies. She pulls no punches with the lyrics either. This is a break-up story with no prospect of reconciliation! Damn good too.
Shallise is from London and on Free she unveils a soulful slow and sparsely arranged track in which her accomplished vocals and sweet harmonies dominate against a consistent programmed beat, resonant synths and single chords. Eminently radio-friendly, I hope she gets the opportunity of some exposure for this track. Vocally think Brandy meets Shanice and hooks up with a young Angie Stone. A bit Neo-Soul and a bit R’n’B but, most importantly, quite lovely.
Wolverhampton’s Benny Atlas has an appealing tenor range soulful voice that recalls Lynden David Hall in a mash with Donnell Jones on Paradise. The latter is also a possible reference for the laid back groove and undeniable hook that dominates. His Facebook page mentions Earth Wind & Fire and there is something of Philip Bailey about his style too. He certainly has a talent that deserves further attention and exposure.
Aaron Taylor is a London-based artist with a rich soulful voice who has managed to hook up with Lalah Hathaway on a smooth slow track entitled Don’t leave me alone which brings to mind the likes of D’Angelo jamming with Lemar. The way the vocals and backing vocals weave patterns around one another has a cool sophistication and the backing track is unobtrusive. Contrasts of register and dynamic lend the track both an added buoyancy and enhanced quality.
My original draft review suggested this was another track crying out for some exposure. Clearly the fact that our Fresh on the Net readers voted the track into the faves, leading to a wonderful review by Louise Toal, caught the eyes and ears of BBC Radio 6 Music production folk because the next day it was getting daytime play on Shaun Keaveney’s show. Well, it does have Lalah Holloway on it so perhaps not so surprising!
Earlier in the month I was introduced to the wonderful Red Beat courtesy of a recommendation by my close friend Paul F Cook of Joyzine. And what a recommendation it turned out to be as I ended up with the heartwarming video for Zachary Jones on my online TV show Upstream. That led me to play it on my radio show and pick it as my Vanishing Point track on Ming and Jon’s Monday Night Ride Out on Exile FM.
The video is heartwarming because it exudes a sense of unity and kinship amongst a group of friends, the core of whom have been making music together for decades while making room for younger ones to join the fun. But the song is a profound statement about one unlucky black man’s struggles in an unforgiving and unequal society, resonating with the message of Black Lives Matter in the form of a story-telling lyric. The band, whose line-up transcends ethnicity, gender and age, have a lilting but robust Dub-infused Reggae style lifted further by sumptuous horns and sweet backing vocals. The spoken word section two thirds in is a highlight too. But the whole thing is infectious. Melodic, passionate, bubbling with creative energy, this is one of the most life-affirming tracks I have heard so far in 2021. By the way, I think I am right in saying the band are from Pembroke in South West Wales.
Yes I know it seems like DMP Tunes is reviewed every month but he keeps on coming up with top tunes like Reality. More galloping Euro-House synth figures and driving Trance chords and beat interspersed with dreamy, resonant female vocal and those syncopated keyboard chords. This is such a massive floor filla that is crying out to be starting fires acros Ibiitha and all its satellite club co-capitals this summer.
Talking of TTD favourites the amazing Amey St Cyr keeps turning out the Soulful House anthems and so it is with the funky sassy Mk 3 rendition of Do you feel it too. The echo effect on Amey’s alto range vocal works well as does the tracking of her voice in the catchy chorus. The mix is simple and translucent, keyboards playing syncopated chords with programmed bass and drums driving things along with plenty of room for Amey’s multi-tracked vocals to dominate. I am so looking forward to her performing at my next Trust The Doc Live @ The Amersham Arms whenever we are finally allowed to put it on.
Thailand’s TR-Gang impressed listeners to my radio show and myself with the track Brutal which stormed my Track of the Week poll. Now they are back with Underground, another pulsating electro-tech instrumental that builds from understated start into a powerhouse of a choon. Loudly produced, bristling with energy and led by dark but delightful synth figures, this is a storming EDM anthem with a refreshing edge. In recent days they have also hit us with another barnstorming anthem in Move Up.
The always reliable Dave Dark & The Sharks returned in early January with Entanglement which sees Dave in, by his standards, poppier territory. The synth bassline has a sixties Motown-meets-Mods UK aura while the fluid sequence of ambient sounds and harmonic adornments are upbeat and appealing. Behind the pretty and glassy flourishes and major key arpeggios, there is a darker undercurrent too. A lot of ideas packed into a short track. Great to hear.
For appreciable reasons the identities of the collaborating artists who make up London’s The Apartment must remain a secret but their debut track Mad World is a funky, infectious and smartly produced journey through the soulful end of the House spectrum with a sizeable foot in the UK Garage camp. The multi-tracked vocal that has shades of Sade in a mash with Shola Ama and Paris Grey while the backing track is fluid, sub-bassy and has those offbeat synth stabs that punctuated the best work of artists like Basement Jaxx and Sunship back in the day.
InflexiOn make synth-driven Techno-Pop on Beleaguered (InflexiOn Re-Leagured Mix) with computer game-like noises punctuating the general backdrop while the beat remains firmly four-to-the-floor. Tuneful and energetic. Imagine New Order in a mash with Faithless while the characters from the original Space Invaders game break free from the computer and start larging it on the dancefloor. Smoke machines on please, DJ.
KRiUS is the artist name of House music writer-producer Joe Hunt and Live for today is in soulful House territory with funky, jazz-infused electric piano, crisp sassy beat and a strong female vocal. Surprisingly light-textured and fleet-footed and yet the sophisticated chords and improvised playing lean towards Deep House and Jazz-Tech too. It is poppy though and would cross over easily onto radio. 1Xtra, are you listening?
Lee Spreadbury is the East Midlands artist known as GU-RU and he is back with another hypnotic banger of a track entitled Teach me. Interestingly he describes it as Acid House, a firm nod to the original rave scene of the late nineteen eighties and there are certainly shades of early Prodigy, S Express and Bizarre Inc in there. That said, the overall sound and choice of timbres places the track firmly in 2021. Fast, pulsating and filled with great sound choices, it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of banging EDM.
All I can tell you about The Vic C Project is that it is the recoding monicker of Mort Cohen. Beyond that, there is no info and there are no links on his Soundcloud page. Well, actually there is one more thing I can tell you and that is that the track 6 is an engagingly dreamy and chord-rich piece of downtempo EDM that would be a perfect post-club chillout number. I should qualify that by pointing out that the tempo is actually quite quick but the feel is laid back, otherworldly and chilled.
Irish-Mauritian, London-based artist Soricah (aka Sarah Louise Cassidy) makes music that is hard to pigeon-hole. Her stunning track Waiting was a comfortable winner in a well-attended Track of the Week poll on my radio show recently. The song, which is haunting and evocative, brings to mind Chris Isaak travelling a long, dusty road while providing an accompaniment for Corinne Bailey Rae comparing notes with Ailhbe Reddy. Soricah’s voice is rich, expressive and so appealing. When she sings ‘you take me away into the stars’ her distinct sound and accent send shivers down my spine and the shimmering tremolo strings add another layer of quality. This is pop at its best - dark, disarming and yet irresistably exotic. My listeners sure called this one right with their votes.
Jessie Reid could just as easily belong in the Folk & Country section but either way, her shimmering triplet-time track Whole Heart is recommended to you. The acoustic guitar strumming is light-textured and continuously changes the rhythmic emphasis of the underlying 6/8 meter while what sounds like Cello provides a wholesome bass register presence that is part-melody, part-accompaniment. Jessie Reid’s vocals are soft but powerful and her harmonies add an extra quality. Folky, mystical and most appealing. Also voted into the fresh faves by FOTN readers.
It is difficult to know where to review Nadedja and the track Unfold. As her Soundcloud biog notes there are elements of R’n’B, Folk and other flavours in the Brazilian-born, London-based artist’s style. Signed to AWAL she has a soulful and dexterous voice and a sound that is thoroughly contemporary with programmed beats, vocal harmonies that could be The Staves, a melody that could be Solange and a folky Alt Pop sensibility that could be Arlo Parks. Mostly though, it is classy, dynamic and impressive. A real talent.
There is quite a back story behind Billie Bottle. Originally from Darlington; now firmly ensconced in South Devon, Newton Abbot to be clear, she has worked with Caravan’s Dave Sinclair, played with Indie band Ethan and collaborated with musical soulmate Martine Waltier in Multiple. Here we find her flying solo on the track Black Swan (of Shibboleth). It is a difficult one to categorise since it has a synth-driven epic quality but is also adorned with Steely Dan-esque major ninths and lush jazz-inflected chords, usually where you don’t expect them. It has a hint of Prog too. The style is poppy all the same with a great melody and imaginative arrangement that reflects her experience and classical upbringing. The track is a little quiet and could do with being mastered but, beyond that, it is a real gem and a demonstration of Billie Bottle’s impressive talents.
Glasgow duo Post Coal Prom Queen are the band formerly known as L Space, the name under which they recorded for Last Night From Glasgow and had success at the fresh faves. They were due to headline a festival I curated under their new name back in April 2020 before lockdown put paid to that event. Since parting with LNFG, they seem to have really discovered the direction they were destined to move in, making warm, subtle and emotionally impactful Post-Synth Pop verging on Shoegaze.
Lily’s vocals on Salt are soft and beautiful, sad and yet soothing as she navigates the enigmatic melody with trademark agility. She and Gordon have become so good at utilising synth and electronic sounds to create evocative soundscapes (some readers may recall the imaginary soundtrack album they made which I reviewed in their L Space days) and have developed a cinematic depth that really supports their composing ambitions. The future looks very bright for them.
I had to include a review of Dorcha Dorcha’s Hyperventilate because it sounds like Soft Cell have got together with Visage and decided to make their most edgy leftfield version of themselves. Sustained mono-synth notes, programmed beat and electro-synth-basslines drive this along while the vocal is Marc Almond if he had just been on a freaky acid trip! But in a good way obviously which is why it’s included in this blog.
This Ship Argo is Belfast musician Aileen McKenna and her track Hum is aptly named in as much as it is accompanied by a rich drone effect. Appealing synths provide a wholesome but translucent soundscape upon which Aileen builds the track, multi-tracked harmonies appearing with a Celtic aura that could almost be Enya comparing scripts with Julianna Barwick plus screenplay by Julia Holter. Striking, solid and reassuring music to lift the spirits.
Dead Menace are a trio described simply as ‘three brothers playing pop’. On Good Year we find them in epic pop territory that brings to mind Everything Everything throwing down a jam with Bombay Bicycle Club. Exploding snare sounds, sound filters and breaks all add to the dynamics of the track while the melody is appealingly intense and very catchy. All good.
Described intriguingly as from both Leeds and Wroclaw, Maria Helena, on the track Planes, makes synth-driven, slightly futuristic sounding pop. Striking vocal harmonies make liberal use of perfect fourths, lending the language a quasi-modal element while little synth melodies play behind her vocals in the mix. Then a slightly Prog-infused instrumental finish delivers one final surprise in a really fine and substantial track. Makes me want to listen again.
I usually review Cumbria-based Paul Taylor’s Def Robot tracks in the Alt Rock & Indie section but Reflection is unequivocally a Synth Pop track. Repeating semi-quaver staccato notes sit above waves of warm synth chords and squelchy basslines while Paul’s vocals are softer than usual, echoing the lyrical subject matter that rues the lack of reflection in today’s world of fake news and extreme conspiracy theory. Within this template sits a well-written and melodic Pop song that has echoes of early Human League jamming with Vessels while Ladytron look on. A welcome demonstration of Paul’s versatility as a writer and artist.
My fellow Fresh on the Net moderator, masterer and producer extraordinaire, the Luxembourg-based artist Tobisonics has teamed up with another TTD favourite Costi on a track called Eye of the Storm. Billed as Electronic Music, it seemed to me to belong in the Synthematic section and it has a couple of toes in Club Culture too. Spoken word focuses on Tobi’s current favourite theme of deconstructing the political culture of the USA. The synth figures are mid-tempo and melodic and there is a reassuring infectiousness about the track. Very well constructed and highly listenable, it has an unmistakably filmic aura. Imagine dark stormy scenes as the credits roll on a giant-size screen. Costi’s vocal performance is incisive and compelling.- I may be wrong but references to ‘... the future’s bright/Demolition man, put your dreams on ice’ might be a final two-finger salute to the defeated, deflated Donald J Trump!
Nothing ambiguous about the Electro-Futurist tendencies of another TTD favourite Matthew Jameson on the slow-burning and unsettling scorched synth and electronic ambience of Tape Machine Broke. It builds from deep dark keyboard notes through an atmosphere of barren wartorn battlegrounds and distant chaos, multiplying in layers as it adds a touch of controlled distortion to the mix. Compelling listening.
Mid-Life Mix is a pseudonym of Helen Froggatt (aka Helen Meissner) and, when she is not busy promoting her daughter DIDI or running Folkstock Records, the Hertfordshire artist can be found making inventive, engaging electronic ambient music like Utopia and Dystopia. Utilising synth patterns and electronic ambience, Helen’s ideas are fluid, shifting through different figures and features, introducing short but impactful melodic responses while retaining a consistency of tempo and mood. Shades of Anna Meredith in conversation with Kelly Lee Owens while Floating Points take the chair. Well, certainly in broadly similar territory anyway.
I have reviewed some of these tracks in recent editions but Hannya White officially releases her first solo EP No Preview via Bandcamp on 23rd February and it can be pre-ordered now. Hannya’s blurb tells us these are all love songs though that might not be the obvious conclusion of some listeners! She has grabbed the attention of many in our community, myself included, by coming up with tracks that strike a unique balance between warm synth figures with inventive contrasts and disarming, slightly scary juxtapositions, strange rhythms and deliberately off kilter vocals including barely audible spoken word phrases.
Her videos, like her songs, can seem playful and sweet one moment, then dystopian and unsettling the next, like a dream sequence that doesn’t quite make sense and yet resonates in some disturbingly familiar fashion. On the EP are tracks I have reviewed and raved about previously including the title track No Preview and also Be my friend and For you, without love. Callin’ is new to me and, having pre-ordered the EP, I will have to wait until 23rd February to be able to tell you how that track sounds although a preview on her Instagram page suggests rumbling, crackling electro-noise is one element. Likewise the late addition of bonus track Love you which, from the short video clip on Instagram, sounds like another gem.
All being well, Hannya will be performing at the first Vanishing Point gig at AMP Studios, currently scheduled for Thursday 4th March but possibly to be moved to April. In the meantime, I recommend this EP to anyone who enjoys music that challenges perceptions and asks questions of the listener but is laced with warmth and playful charm too.
Contemporary Classical & Sound Art
Whenever I play a new track by North East English pianist and composer Paul Taylor (not to be confused with Def Robot’s Paul Taylor!) on my radio show, it causes a flood of tweets gushing about his talents. So it was only to be expected that such a reaction would greet tracks from Paul’s new album Via. Released by local Newcastle label New Jazz and Improvise Music (run by Wesley Stephenson), it is based on a series of piano improvisations. I have said before that one of the many amazing aspects of Paul’s talent is his ability to improvise within the context of utilising harmonic language that is complex, modal and jazz-infused. Debussy in a collaboration with Chick Corea perhaps! His lightness of touch and ability to create such dreamy textures with his command of the piano and all its elements are breathtaking. Good to see him gaining well-deserved recognition.
I am not familiar with Solihull composer Christof R Davis but his track Lux Bramalis is a slow-burning ambient piece dominated by sustained, subtly overlapping string parts. Looking at his blurb he is an award-winning composer who has enjoyed a string of successes in the world of synchronisation (soundtracks etc.) which is not surprising given the soft atmospherics on display here. This is evocative, ethereal and landscapey music that is soothing and satisfying in equal measure. The way he switches from pastoral major key and suspended chords into darker minor ones is slightly Mahlerian and there is even a hint of Gorecki in the fluidity of the harmonic state as deep strings move slowly and upper ones envelope them. Harmonically it is unadventurous but skillfully arranged and lovingly crafted in a way that makes it impossible not to listen all the way through.
The Star Feminine Band are an amazing collective of girls aged between 10 and 16 from Benin who play a variety of instruments and styles from across African music; emphasising Pop and Dance genres. They have three drummers too. On the track Rew’ Be M’Me the rhythms are light-textured and buoyant despite the driving percussive power of the band. Their voices are a delight - expressive, playful and harmonising with fluid fluent ease. It is a spirited uplifting and compelling sound which I feel the world will be hearing more of very soon. Album due out in 2021.
I have included an article by Kate Hutchinson from The Guardian on my website in the recent past so it was no surprise that the track she recommended to Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music was a cracker. That was by Ecuadorian musician Quixosis. Luz Y Fer has a bendy, hypnotic quality that fuses a contemporary electronic vibe with lilting South American dance chops and a repeating enigmatic vocal sample. It all ends up having an ambient semi-futuristic feel. My kind of [alternative] floor filla!
Folk & Country
The enigmatic Harbottle & Jonas hail from the Green stronghold of Totnes in South Devon; once home to the beautiful Dartington College of Music, Art & Drama and a unique piece of the Western Counties that is incomparable to most of the surrounding landscape. In that arty, alternative atmosphere, it is not so surprising that such an unusual and refreshing hybrid of Folk, Classical and Alternative music would be free to develop. On Black is the colour, a strong, appealingly edgy female voice dominates, accompanied by robust individual strings and organic instrumental play, sometimes in drone form. The song is dark, dynamic and builds in intensity while the arrangement is stunning, warm and cleverly layered. Similarly layered but more vocal and chords-dominated is Every creature is a book, topped off by some folky fiddle playing. They have been called ‘fine contemporary Folk’ by Tom Robinson. I can hear why.
I was delighted to receive some tracks in January from the wonderful London-Chicago centred collective Umbrellabirds taken from their album Closing Ceremony. One of those, I am all, was a recent Fresh Fave and then duly won my Track of the Week poll on Trust The Doc Radio by a country mile. With strong and folky female voice in the lead, the harmonies are sweet and sophisticated, dominating against an organic backdrop of deep drone strings and picking guitar. The song is simply beautiful too. And there is more where this comes from.
AND FINALLY .......
It emerged in January that the government deliberately and knowingly rejected the chance of a deal to enable UK musicians to tour the European Union visa-free for 90 days at a time because they were more concerned about not allowing ‘foreigners’ to enjoy similar rights in the UK (even though that would have benefited UK musicians, promoters, venues etc. too). Such is their contempt and their party’s hatred of the arts that they sabotaged the opportunity for a deal that the music industry, at every level from major corporation to struggling individual in the indie sector, desperately wanted. Even then, they were too cowardly to admit it and tried to blame the EU’s representatives, claiming they refused such a deal. Thank you Tory Party. Still as much the ‘Nasty Party’ as ever.
On the bright side the Orange Tyrant in the White House has finally accepted his eviction although not before clumsily inciting far right fanatics to attempt a violent insurrection. It is rare for me to wish ill fortune on anyone, even those I have contempt for but, given the untold suffering Trump has knowingly, deliberately and cynically caused to so many in his sociopathic pursuit of permanent power, I hope prosecutors find sufficient evidence to put him in jail and I hope he stays there for a long time. I am too rational to believe in such concepts as pure evil but he gets as close as anyone I can possibly think of.
Enough about politics though. Let’s talk about music. 2021 has kicked off with a plethora of great tracks and, as we quietly prepare for the return of live music, there are going to be some storming events ahead. I hope they will include quite a few of my promotions including the return of Vanishing Point on the first Thursday of every month, more Trust The Doc Live gigs at the Amersham Arms and at new venues both inside and outside London and the two festivals I plan to put on. It may be months before the vaccination process can be declared a success and something akin to normality can be tentatively restored but, when we are allowed to put live music on again, it is going to be worth the wait. Well let’s hope so anyway.
So that just leaves me to say thanks again for reading my blog and I hope you found all or part of it interesting and worth the effort. The world may be a crazy, baffling place but one thing remains true. As I always say, new music never sleeps! Until the next time folks. Take care, stay safe and keep supporting new music. Neil xxxx
Ⓒ 2021 Neil March T/A/ Demerara Records Logo by PaulFCook