Published using Google Docs
Trust The Doc: Edition 60
Updated automatically every 5 minutes

TTD LogoTTD Radio-LOGO

Edition 60: 30th September 2021:  A blog by Neil March

Welcome to Edition 60 of Trust The Doc. Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, please visit and ‘like’ the Trust The Doc Facebook page and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Fresh on the Net has now returned from a summer break. September also saw me put on the first Tomorrow Calling Festival at AMP Studios. And a big big thank you to the Arts Council of England and National Lottery for supporting my activities for a third consecutive year and helping me to support so many people involved in grassroots independent music. I feel very privileged.

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 dptmusicdigital@gmail.com. Please DO NOT send Dropbox or similar links and folders that I have to go fishing in for the right track. A simple MP3 with an email is fine. (Art & Design: PaulFCook)

CONTENTS

Part One: The Month in Brief

Part Two: Reviews of New Music

Part Three: Other Commentaries

                                         

PART ONE: THE MONTH IN BRIEF

TRUST THE DOC MEDIA: UPDATE

The Trust The Doc Radio show continues to attract a large and lively audience. The amazing community keeps me on my toes throughout the live and interactive show that goes out at 5PM UK/BST on Exile FM. There are two polls - Track of the Week & Classic Show Closer - and a brain teaser called What’s The Word? If you miss the live show you can catch the podcast for the ensuing days here.

The pre-recorded one-hour Trust The Doc Extra show (8PM, Wednesdays) also continues to be popular and, on 15th September, there was a 2 hour special to ensure airplay for the many tracks coming into my gmail in-box. If you don’t get to listen to the show when it broadcasts on Exile FM at 8PM on Wednesday nights, it is available for the next 7 days as a podcast here. 

Sat  5 - 7PM

Trust The Doc Radio

Live & interactive. 2 polls & a brain teaser. 50% new & emerging acts,

Wed 8 - 9PM

Pre-recorded podcast mainly playing tracks by new & emerging artists.

The Trust The Doc TV channel continues to host two Upstream editions a month on the first and third Tuesdays with videos, live footage and interviews across a wide spectrum of new music. It also has trailers, previews and other programmes.

ARTS COUNCIL & NATIONAL LOTTERY SUPPORT

In mid-September I was surprised by the wonderful news, much earlier than expected, that the Arts Council of England have agreed to support me with a third year of grant funding which I will receive in October in time to kick off Operation New Music - Year 3 in November.  So a huge thank you and gratitude to the Arts Council of England and the National Lottery for this amazing support. It means I am able to press ahead with my most ambitious plans yet including the first ever Contemporary Music Proms to be held over 4 Sundays in 4 separate months during Spring and early Summer 2022 as part of Lewisham’s London Borough of Culture celebrations. More news about this and other events soon.

NEW MUSIC SHOW LAUNCHES ON 365 ONLINE

As reported in Edition 59, the Trust The Doc New Music Show [podcast] launched on 365 Online at 7PM on Friday 24th September and included me counting down and playing the New Music Hotlist as voted by listeners at the show’s Facebook Page. Join the group if you haven’t already and have a say on which tracks feature in future weeks. The first Hotlist did not include any new and emerging artists but all future ones will and the new Hotlist on tomorrow’s show (7PM, Friday 1st October) has substantial changes from last week. Here is the first Top 10 that appeared on the inaugural show. You can still listen for one more day here. 

Trust The Doc New Music Hotlist: Week Commencing 20th September 2021

Presented by Neil March on 365 Online Radio

  1.  Low: Disappearing
  2.  Jungle: Talk about it
  3.  Salad: Things in heaven
  4.  The Starjets: Diana 96
  5.  Laura Mvula: Pink Noise
  6.  BC Camplight: I’m alright in the world
  7.  Little Simz: I love you I hate you
  8.  Bleach Lab: Real Thing
  9.  Sault: London Gangs
  10.  London Grammar: How does it feel

TOMORROW CALLING FESTIVAL: WHAT A DAY !!!!

After all the months of anticipation the Tomorrow Calling Festival still exceeded expectations with a day and evening of stellar live performances in a magical atmosphere. Read my full report on Fresh on the Net here. Video clips of all the acts appeared on Ed 33 of Upstream on the Trust The Doc TV Channel on YouTube.

VANISHING POINT @ AMP STUDIOS

September’s Vanishing Point was a fantastic event with stunning performances by Naz & Ella; Gabrielle Sey and Legpuppy. You can see video clips from all three on Edition 32 of Upstream on the Trust The Doc TV Channel on YouTube.

The next Vanishing Point gig is on Thursday 7th October with a stellar line-up of Anrimeal; Zaflon; Boubakiki and Yadayn. Anrimeal was the subject of rave reviews in this blog a few months ago while Zaflon was the collaborator on Amy St Cyr’s amazing last single. Boubakiki are the aforementioned Rosie Bergonzi (see report on Tomorrow Calling Festival) and saxophonist Joe Steele and this will be their third performance (but first since we moved venues). Yadayn is a young Belgian guitarist who also uses ambient sound. It promises to be a fantastic evening of Ambient, Electronic, World and Classical flavours.

TRUST THE DOC LIVE: @ THE AMERSHAM ARMS

The latest Trust The Doc Live gig took place on Wednesday 15th September with the return of three acts who have played this gig in the past ten months plus one hot newcomer. On the bill were popular local Indie/Alt Pop duo/trio (depending who’s available and this time it was just Dido and Maria who were a revelation as a duo) The Fragile States; teenage Alt Rock tearaways Staarks who blew the roof off the venue!; dynamic London Rock maestros Everafter who mixed cool showmanship with belting Rock tunes and South Coast Psychedelic Alt Pop and whimsical songsmiths The Barbarian Horde who had charm, humour and ace tune after ace tune. A cracking night of Indie, Alt Rock and Psychedelia.

The next Trust The Doc Live gig takes place at the Amersham Arms on Wednesday 20th October and features a five-act line-up of Project CONCUBINE; Collars; All The President’s Men; Ha Ha Ha and Pink Wuzzle Band.

FRESH ON THE NET REOPENS AND MY REVIEWS

Fresh on the Net returned from a six week summer break to a deluge of new tracks on Monday 6th September. The second week back was my turn again to review the winning fresh faves from the 25 tracks we put up for the public vote on the Listening Post. And it was a stellar list too. Read my reviews here.

And don’t forget to come and vote [and comment too if you wish] at the Listening Post every weekend (between Friday afternoon and about 6PM on Sunday). We always sift out 25 great tracks across a wide spectrum of genres for you to listen to and vote on. Click here from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening (usually closing around 6PM) and follow the menu for the latest Listening Post.

PART TWO: REVIEWS OF NEW MUSIC

Albums & EPs

ASHA McCARTHY: Epitaph

My discovery of the music of Cello-playing singer-songwriter Asha McCarthy is proving to be one of the highlights of the past month. I had the pleasure of reviewing her track Love surrounds you for the Fresh on the Net faves and subsequently picked it for my Vanishing Point track on the Monday Night Ride Out on Exile FM as well as adding it to my own shows’ playlists. But then, when Asha generously sent me the album Epitaph, I was knocked for six by the consistency of her creativity throughout an album written and recorded in the spaces between being a busy young mum.

Asha’s music blends North Indian, Western Classical and Folk music and she studied Hindustani Classical Music which brings an additional edge to her writing and playing. Her guitar playing tends to consist of delicate picking figures, often descending through arpeggio-filled phrases while her Cello is rich in texture and her vocals are beautifully clear and adorned with imaginative harmonies.

Drift is an outstanding opening track, instantly establishing her sound and creating an ethereal atmosphere in which that delicate Guitar and rich Cello dominate the backdrop to gentle, alluring vocals with the sweetest of harmonies. The title track comes in two parts. The [instrumental] first has upper register Cello playing off against a repeating guitar figure with watery ambient sounds to boot. The Cello swoops and snarls with some glissando figures, occasionally descending to deep dark timbres. The North Indian influence is very audible here and the track is short but impactful. Part 2 continues the same guitar figure and upper register Cello but this time we get Asha’s vocal which again has a strong Indian music influence in its flourishes and pitch arrangement. The main part of the song is in a lively 6/8 time with a gorgeous melody although tempo slows and accelerates, demonstrating the amazing discipline she must have as a musician to be able to multi-track a recording that is so rhythmically demanding and yet make it sound so effortless. Oddly it reminds me fleetingly of Joni Mitchell even though style-wise, it is nothing like her. Perhaps even a little of The Staves too. As the track develops, the harmonies once again are goose-bumping.

Love surrounds you sees resonant picking guitar, warm string chords (possibly all played by Cello) and a quiet pizzicato double bass. The melody is truly lovely and the harmonies are butterflies-inducing. The Cello plays glissando figures high up on the D and A strings before reminding us of Asha’s technical ability with rapid scales. Then, as the tempo accelerates towards the finish, the harmonies take centre stage and the guitar is almost flamenco-like. All new is again constructed around picking guitar and quiet double bass pizzicato notes. The vocal is enigmatic and stirring. The vocal harmonies dominate as the track fills out and once again are so stirring. Trust has a folkiness playing off against some exotic harmonic ideas in the keyboards. Again picking guitar is prominent in the arrangement and the tempi are fluid and seemingly effortlessly realised.

It ends with ‘Til Dawn which begins with a Staves/I SEE RIVERS-like vocal harmony arrangement that is quite overwhelming, accompanied by a repeating guitar figure that could be Laura Marling. The aura is otherworldly and captivating; those harmonies too beautiful for words, overlapping to produce major sevens and nines and suspensions. A stunning finish to an amazing album. Every element of this album is lovingly crafted and delivered with instinctive expressiveness and quality. A genuine thing of beauty.

ALAN DREEZER: H E A L E D

Based in Spain where the climate is better for his wife’s health, Englishman Alan Dreezer has spent two and a half years putting the album Healed together, slowed down at times by the pandemic. It represents the soundtrack of his life over the past few years. As he says in the liner notes, ‘... experience of being a part-time dad, of lost friends and troubled relationships, stories my friends have told me, and of the positive people still in my life have cleansed my mind…’. It has been a difficult road but one that has found its inspiration and manifestation in his songwriting.

Alan’s style blends electronic beats, sometimes verging on EDM in manner, with an epic pop sound that allows for big harmonies and layers of resonant synth. The Twelfth of Never (no, not that one!) has those qualities in spades. But it does displays a funkier side with squelchy synth chords while You don’t reveals Alan’s ability to nail down a dynamic pop ballad. New single The Chase has a cinematic quality with its hook that has a mystical aura. Title track Healed is high tempo Synth Pop while I think that you know is dark and trippy. The album concludes with the mid-tempo Time stands still with shades of Bryan Ferry in a mash with Hozier. Big harmonies and piano chords abound. It is a climatic finale to a highly personal, meticulously arranged and impressive work.

MACHINA X: The Art Of Letting Go (EP)

Regular listeners to my Trust The Doc Radio show on Exile FM will know that Machina X were recipients of my New & Emerging Artist of 2020 award after an extraordinary year, the highlight of which was their Future Imperfect EP. Now they have hit us with a new EP The Art of Letting Go. It is worth pointing out that this EP was conceived against the backdrop of Cyrus living amid the chaos and uncertainty of events in Myanmar while Annie looked on in despair from Sheffield. Despite this disruptive atmosphere they have determinedly, doggedly even, retained their remote working partnership and the result is some of the most emotionally charged and imaginative music they have produced to date.

It kicks off with Prelude with spacy ambient synth patterns and noises rolling like gentle waves, building towards bigger darker chords (no vocals) and leading us into Fragile. The accompanying press release helpfully sets out what the different emotional states behind the tracks are, this one being ‘hurt’. It is slowish with a prominent onbeat drum part and sweeping synths accompanying Annie’s instantly recognisable voice and an appealing melody. Breaks in the action provide a cool contrast and then we get Cyrus taking over vocal duties for a verse in his clear, very pure tones. Each time there’s a break for synth sweeps and distant echoing voices, the return to the main theme seems stronger than before. This is Machina X at their absolute best, playing to all their strengths in four and a half minutes of contemporary cinematic electro-pop heaven.

Belong to the night is laid back but laced with an emotional intensity. Its rueful theme is beautifully controlled in Annie’s loving hands while Cyrus builds layers of translucent sound around her and the song takes us on a gentle but haunting journey of waves and layers. Any warm embers of tranquility are quickly extinguished by Denial which is lively and driven by staccato synth tones and long chords. On surface it is major key and has a more upbeat feel. Yet the track  is about ‘wretchedness/sadness’. The lyrics do reflect that despair and the chorus unquestionably reflects that mood with subtle melancholy.  After this Silent Now is almost a moment to reflect as the duo get into traditionally squelchy synthpop bass patterns and an infectious wordless hook that harks back to the eighties [or nineties maybe]. Annie’s vocals are almost otherworldly at times and it chugs along agreeably, underpinned by a naggingly sinister aura. Again, this is really strong.

It ends with the ethereal Drum’n’Bass-infused The Art of Letting Go with swirling synth tones and leather-tough beat accompanying Annie’s slightly whispery vocals while breaks allow ambient sweeps to play off against high register synth figure. The melody is particularly striking and the octave doubled up hook of ‘I feel like tonight’s the night’ really works. Typically it is full of little nuances that remind us of Cyrus’s meticulous attention to detail. It is a great finish to an exceptional EP that sees Machina X continue to envelope so many strands of influence without losing their highly distinct aural character. Their best yet? I would say so.

BROKEN BEAR: Gonna let it burn (EP)

London/Surrey-based duo Broken Bear have a new EP out entitled Gonna let it burn and it is released tomorrow (1st October 2021). As noted in my last review, they make a pretty agreeable noise for two people. Opening track Narx has an unmistakable Nirvana influence both in its melody and its chord structure while the vocals remind me a little of Throwing Muses in a mash with The Mysterines. It is a contemporary take on Grunge and provides an engaging start to the proceedings. We know who you are is in triplet time, light textured and built around strummed and choppy guitar. The harmonies in the chorus bring a haunting quality.

The title track Gonna let it burn is slow, dynamic and built around a simple guitar figure. Mazzy Star in a mash with Warpaint maybe. The buzzing bass is particularly effective and the sparseness of the arrangement amplifies the dark, daunting mood while the semi-tone descending figure in the chorus is reminiscent of Magazine. What do you want has an echo of Bronski Beat in a mash with Bats For Lashes, big chords punctuating a strong chorus.

The EP ends with the ominously titled Freedom in a cage, cool jagged guitar riff and stuttering beat playing off against a strong melody. This track has the most contrasts of dynamic and texture. The vocals have shades of Liz Fraser brainstorming with Drab City. Rounding things off in style.

Pop Noodles

The latest offering from Oxford’s PECQ is a continuation of their excellent form. The band, who record for the excellent Upcycled Sounds label, have a new single called Over and Over which has a buoyant beat and nicely organised layers of synths playing cool chords and understated figures while the female vocal is soft but strong and slightly otherworldly like Rachael from Cloth in a mash-up with Laura Mvula while New Dad keep score. As it progresses, the beat sounds more like Drum’n’Bass. It grabbed me on first listen, hooked me on the second and had me won completely over on the third.

Oxford’s Nika Timos has a track called Family. Her voice is very distinct; sweet but husky and full of character while the song is a perky synth and drum programme driven piece of contemporary pop that has shades of Lorde, maybe even a little of Chvrches too. The hook is instantly catchy and the production is bright and resonant which brings out the commanding presence of her vocals. With that comes strong songwriting and arranging that respects space without losing its brightness. Big thumbs up.

Grace Savage was a fresh fave the week I wrote those reviews for the very first time in January 2018. I noted then that she is a singer, actor, beat-boxer and recipient of support and reviews from the likes of BBC Introducing, Clash Magazine and Notion. In the three and a half years since that review, she has continued to build her followings live and online. She has also assembled a new band and is playing in Hoxton, North London in October. Water Rising sees Grace team up with London-based Canadian artist Mauvey on a track that has her strong bright voice and harmonies riding atop a base of deep tough syncopated beats and rumbling synths while Mauvey adds a lower octave in the chorus and provides a free-flowing rhythmic rap in the mid-section. Shades of St Vincent in a mash with Laura Mvula with spices from Jessie Ware while Mauvey’s vocals bring an edge to the proceedings. A cool collaboration producing a heady mix of melody, energy and intensity.

It is hard to place Huru’s Slow Motion genre-wise. It has a subtle R’n’B undercurrent mixing in with some trippy, hazily lovely keyboard chords and ambient sounds while her vocal is soulful, reflective and striking. It sits in two chords throughout but the continuously changing events around them keep it moving. The syncopated deep bassline, crisp beat and dreamy waves of synths all add to the aura while Hura’s voice is rich and expressive. Topped off by a melancholy tune that is impossible to resist.

London-based artist Abi Mia will be playing Vanishing Point later this year and she has a new track out called Good Intentions. A slow smouldering ballad, it builds from translucent beginnings while Abi’s appealing, emotionally powerful voice takes centre stage. The piano is resonant and plays triadic chords over a deep programmed beat. Synths sweep dreamily in and out while Abi’s vocal harmonies add depth. The spacious mix brings out the quality of her singing and emphasises the melody while allowing her room to ad lib and add flourishes. Epic Pop balladry. Incidentally Abi will be performing at my Vanishing Point gig on 2nd December. You won’t be able to buy tickets for a while yet but you could put it in your diary all the same.

I first came across Natalie Shay when she was on the bill at a festival I was reviewing for Fresh on the Net in 2019 although, as I was sharing the privilege with my close friend Paul F Cook, I didn’t get to see her. Nevertheless, she has remained on my radar as an artist with obvious potential to break through. New Wave takes a positive step in that sense. There is an air of Jess Glynne jamming with Taylor Swift while Calvin Harris keeps watch. Uptempo pop with a large dose of EDM power making it a radio track that can convert to the dancefloor. Catchy too in a pleasant, uplifting way helped by Natalie’s bright, agile and attractive voice.

London-based Dutch artist Charly Haze has a new track called Getaway Car which has a slightly melancholy air despite the catchiness of the tune and the uptempo four-to-the-floor electronic beat sitting beneath busy synths mixing deep buzzes with arpeggio figures and legato tones. Charly’s vocal is expressive and fortified by octave apart themes and harmonies. It is essentially contemporary pop in broadly Rita Ora meets Jess Glynne territory. A killer hook rounds off a cool track.

Blackpool’s teenage artist and TTD regular HOL has a new single out. Intoxicated is mid-tempo epic pop with plenty of guitar jangle and Hollie’s voice flying high in the airspace it is afforded by spacious production. She has always had an innate ability to pen a memorable expressive melody with a yearning quality and that talent is very much on display here. At the same time, she continues to demonstrate how being in the creative hotbed of BIMM in Manchester is enabling her to stretch out in terms of her ideas and techniques. This is another cracking choon that should see HOL pick up plenty of airplay and admiration.

There is not much information about Rob Hyde on his Soundcloud page, no links or geographical location. But he has hit us with a bouncym, buoyant and sophisticated slice of synthy-soulish Pop with sumptuous harmonies and great melody lines entitled Hold On. It has a retro vibe at heart but the production, synth sounds and filtered vocal harmonies give it a kind of futuristic vibe too and the ending is the icing on a very tasty cake.

Antiqcool and Sicknote Publishing are one and the same in the form of songwriter and artist Pete Crossland from Chester. And latest single Take a bow with every step serves up a shimmering reverberant and slightly dreamy piece of contemporary pop that could almost be Shawn Mendes getting together with Paul Simon while James Blake drops by with a bottle of something. Tuneful, breezy and light textured with an air of sophistication and some loving care in the organisation of instruments and vocal harmonies. How it should be done.

Alt Rock & Indie

East Midlands Alt Pop trio The Happy Somethings are regulars in this blog and last month I reviewed their fantastic new EP but, in the meantime, Happy from the band, under his recording name of Happy As You Like has a new track out called Your answer’s come. What begins as a slightly folky sounding acoustic number soon develops into a lovingly crafted, imaginatively written song with some sumptuous chord changes, cool guitar figures and an appealing vocal performance. Deep, probing lyrics are set to a comparatively happy-go-lucky (sic.) tune and there is an almost McCartney-esque nonchalance about the delivery that definitely works. A little gem nestling among the competing hordes in this month’s in-box.

It is just less than four months since Tom Wells played a solo Fast Trains set for me at Vanishing Point. That night people were comparing him to everyone from Nick Drake to Damien Rice. But the band version is another strand altogether and on A Thousand Tiny Cuts (Mikko Gordon Single Mix), we get to hear another side of their style with driving guitar-dominated Psych-Alt-Pop, characterised by big melodies and cool harmonies. The chord changes in the chorus are particularly effective and take the whole thing up a notch. Intelligent, energetic and enjoyable.

Coventry’s Senses are a consistently interesting band and Little Pictures without sound finds the quartet in reflective mood with a slow melancholy piece of Alt Pop. It recalls the quieter moments from The Stone Roses maybe in a jam with Teenage Fanclub. The guitars shimmer and the vocal harmonies are resonant in a Beatlesesque manner. A rather beautiful track.

Hailing from Tsibli in Georgia, Sky Diving Penguins have a single out entitled I don’t want, I don’t care. Kicking off with a simple but alluring piano figure, the track soon fills out with harmonies, what sounds like French Horn, strings and much more. On this evidence they wear their Beatles/Lennon influence on their sleeves but there are shades of mid-seventies artists like Andrew Gold and, dare I say it, even a little of Gilbert O’Sullivan about the vocals. There are more contemporary references too, perhaps a hint of Ben Folds in a mash with Daniel Powter. Moreover it is a clever, enjoyable and heartwarming slice of sophisticated Pop. It also won the Track of the Week poll on my live radio show.

Sheffield’s Street Robots’ new track Time on our hands has the kind of jagged Funk-Punk guitar, contrasting bass notes and punchy drums that reach both back to the likes of Gang of Four, Devo and early Talking Heads and to present acts like Crack Cloud and Pozi. Vocally it probably has echoes of all these and more. Lively, semi-theatrical but edgy and hard-hitting too. Full of imagination and compelling to listen to.

London band The Anderson Tapes played an exciting, energetic live set at my Trust The Doc Live night at The Amersham Arms a few months ago. So it wss great to hear their new single Pictures in Cellophane. I don’t have the information about who produced and mastered the track but they have done a fantastic job of capturing the band’s driving energy. The two guitars thunder along over rock solid bass and drums courtesy of Martin and Chris respectively while Olga’s distinct, edgy voice cuts through the joyous wall of sound and Delfina stretches out with some cool lead guitar work. The bridge is strong and the chorus is characteristically infectious.

Norwich’s Lazyboy have a track called Kill it right that rides along on the foundation of a funky, tough-edged bass and punchy drums over which the guitar is spiky and inventive and the keyboard is colourful and cinematic. Vocally it has shades of Pottery in a mash with Do Nothing. The feel of the track is syncopated, compact and buzzing with controlled energy. Thumbs up all round.

Another month, another thoughtful and engaging Psychedelic Pop tune from China-based Welsh songwriting wizard Blokeacola. The Confidence of Ignorance is a condition many of us will recognise all too well and it provides him with a clever semi-story telling lyric that matches a memorable tune while the syncopated beat and prominent keyboard chords. His melodies provide punch and colour and some tasty guitar work adds the trimmings. Blokeacola’s vocal performance, as always, is distinct and delivered with style.

Sister Lucy is Abi Sinclair and, judging by Dream, she makes agreeably rocking Alt Pop that has a tough guitar-driven basis and punchy beat while the vocals have a slight air of Sharon Van Etten in a mash with Juliana Hatfield. Sometimes the electric guitar riff drops out and acoustic takes over. It’s a simple but effective technique that adds colour and contrast to an energetic, engaging track.

Fresh from playing a sparkling, memorable live set at my Trust The Doc Live gig at the Amersham Arms, Hastings’ finest whimsical Pop duo The Barbarian Horde have what, in vinyl-only days, we would call a Double A-sided single. Movie is fittingly cinematic with dramatic synth strings one moment, a light-textured verse the next and plenty of dark humour. This is, on the one hand, Psychedelic Pop in the best tradition of quirky English bands mixed in with a large dose of classic Pop, a dash of early Talking Heads and a lo-fi charm that makes the patches of dodgy intonation and messy multi-tracked vocals seem somehow appropriate. The Pigeons and the Boys is a sad little tale of love gone sour amid a string of unfortunate events and misunderstandings with great Timpani effects, more light textures and contrasts of timbre and quintessentially English whimsy. It is so good to have a band like The Barbarian Horde who bring that unmistakable English satire to contemporary Alt Pop. Deceptively clever and highly entertaining.

Northampton band The Holy Road were deserving winners of the Track of the Week poll on my Trust The Doc Radio Show early in September leading to my playing Coming up for air for several weeks. The band describe their sound as an ‘... introspective, haunting blend of Art-Rock Electronica …’ which is not a bad shout. The riffing guitar, syncopated beat and locked in bass and drums are very much in keeping with the darker end of the Alt Pop spectrum while the electronic and synth buzzes and breaks add another angle and the slightly wailing, dramatic vocals bring to mind bands like The Danse Society and, more recently, Do Nothing. There are some great contrasts between sections and the ghostly keyboards moving up a third and down to the previous pitch minus a semi-tone even brings the current incarnation of The Specials to mind. Coming up for air is, most importantly, a really well-written, thoughtfully arranged track with a great tune.

From Northampton to Southampton then and TTD regulars Man Eat Grass whose Aye don’t dance the way ewe do has a title written the way Slade might once have presented it and actually isn’t so far from Slade in the way that it is built on driving guitar energy with a backbeat on the drums introducing the track and Tom’s highly distinctive, slightly sarcastic voice leading from the front. It’s vintage Man Eat Grass, uptempo, noisy, bristling with energy but wearing a wry smile too. Love it.

Spanish-London artist Nadia Sheikh also topped my Track of the Week poll on Trust The Doc Radio in early September with the song IDWK [or I don’t wanna know]. It kicks off with strummed but staccato guitar and a tune that has echoes of the Psychedelic Furs’ Sister Europe before rising up the register, adorned by harmonies, to become more dynamic and intense while the guitars and drums backdrop switches between consistent and breaking down. The tune in the verses is good but it’s the chorus that lifts this beyond just good and even more so as it heads into a climatic middle eight; perhaps an unintentional Golden Section of the kind favoured by 20th Century composers. The final stretch where the echo effect is used for a trippy finish on the drums is a great way to end the track.

Leeds band The Rumbleskulls have been on my radar for some time; not least for the tracks and videos they have shared with me including Michael Featherstone’s solo instrumental tracks. The Rumbleskulls play a melodic Alt Rock that combines some unusual retro guitar-dominated influences but also has a sense of where music is going in 2021. New single Shadow of a man is built on a sliding chord guitar riff that sounds like a traditional rock feature but the song that ensues is melodic and compact, topped by a clever chord structure in what is essentially the song’s chorus. Michael’s vocals are distinct and resonant while the band’s playing is tight and succinct. Possibly my favourite Rumbleskulls track so far.        

It was actually hard to decide in which section to review the new track by Snippet aka Johnno Casson since it has a strong Dub element, is a little bit Urban, a tad Synthematic but is probably more Alt Pop than any of those. Still, what matters is that Here come the freaks is a killa track. Johnno, whose career to date has been amazing on so many levels; not least for how he has balanced having success as an artist with his work for the Warm & Toasty Club supporting elderly people through music, arts, history and community and for the way he has battled the horrific effects of M.E and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and continued to bring so much energy to his work. I should add that, in his many years as a Fresh on the Net moderator, he wrote some of the most entertaining faves reviews I have ever read and his ability to use themes and humour in doing so unquestionably influenced my own reviews writing for that platform (albeit my most recent reviews didn’t have a theme!).

Here come the freaks is Johnno’s anthem for those who don’t conform to a stereotypical notion of how we should look, behave, act etc. His multi-tracked vocals focus on repeating the hook while synth-horns play stabs and melodies over a tough, slightly Latin-infused beat. Dub effects and echoes are used to create a fluid, delightfully unstable and slightly Trip Hop-like state. Perhaps picture Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry remixing Massive Attack while Working Mens Club drop by with some flavours. Hmmm, well something like that anyway! If the song is celebrating uniqueness then it is fitting that Johnno has succeeded in creating such a unique hybrid of influences and ingredients; achieving this while retaining a spacious, translucent soundscape. Full marks on every attribute.                

                

Londoner Freya Beer is back with a new single. Beast finds her in exuberant mood, a pumping bassline and drumbeat underpinning a power-driven Gothic Alt Pop track. Freya’s distinct alto voice sounds big, imposing even, looming large in the spacious soundtrack and loud production. It is infectious, energetic and a little daunting in the best possible way. A big, boisterous tune with a deliriously dark undercurrent. Try listening and not wanting to put it on repeat.

Next up two legendary bands who are very much alive and kicking with new material these days. The Automatics, led by the very likeable David Philps, were originally part of the New Wave that accompanied the Punk wave of the late nineteen seventies. These days their sound, as witnessed on new single Bonneville ‘62, has room for a strong hint of Celtic Soul, some Americana a la early Springsteen/Seger and elements of classic British Pop (Costello, Lowe, Parker etc.) which is blended to create a sound that is fresh and shimmers with bright guitars, solid rhythm section and appealing vocals. Bonneville ‘62 has a dreaminess and light-textured spacious production that allows it to soar and bring out the melodic strength of the track. Good to hear.

Based in Manchester these days The Membranes are a band I loved in the eighties. Indeed they were a significant influence on one of the best bands I ever formed. John Robb, who has always had a parallel career as a music journalist, has been a regular on documentaries about music over recent years and it is good to see that the band are still out there making relevant music. And, in that respect, it is important to note that Borders Blurred is a long way from Death To Trad Rock and so it should be because 36 years have passed between the two singles. Borders Blurred still has their trademark energy and hard-edged vocals but it is a slow-to-mid-tempo Alt Rock track with agreeably clanging guitars and a descending bass pattern over rock solid drums. On the one hand there is a Punk sensibility about it, maybe more a New York one though, and yet there are shades of bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Mekons while the slightly sarky sounding vocal could be Mark E Smith in a mash with a young Nick Cave with input from Chubby & The Gang. Dark, daunting but loud and punchy too, the sound of a band who are enjoying making music and still giving artists half their age more than a run for their money.

Talking of young bands, Sussex trio Wild Horse are still barely out of their teenage years and yet have been around so long it is easy to forget how young they are. The prolific act have another new single out today (30th September) called Symphony of broken hearts. As with their two previous releases, it feels like there has been a conscious decision to move away from being an out and out Rock band. This song is in a slower tempo than usual with a really interesting descending chord pattern that appears periodically and is almost Beatlesesque. The song is laid back but has an intensity underlined by Jack’s dynamic upper register vocal performance. Also underlined here is their ability to pen a cool hook and corresponding melody. Another interesting, impressive step on their ongoing journey.

Also submitted by Wild Horse is The Room which is another departure from past tracks, slow with big soul-like harmonies and Jack stretching out his excellent voice over a punchy Soul-Pop backdrop. More Paul Weller than Paul Rodgers. And damn good too.

Urban Flavas

The London-based ‘Alternative Jazz, Hip Hop and Urban-Indie band’ Juices And A Drum leapt out of my Fresh on the Net in-box and into my head immediately with the outstanding Rough Rider. No, not the Prince Buster classic covered by The Beat! This is a sophisticated syncopated and soulful slab of Jazz-infused Funk-Hop that blends breathtaking creativity and impressive musicianship with intelligent lyrics, great tunes and some thoughtful rap. Imagine if Naughty by Nature, early Jamiroquai and Defunkt had performed a mash-up and you might be a short distance towards envisaging this fresh funky sound. It is compelling listening and, even after about ten or eleven listens, I keep hearing more about it that I love.

Sheffield’s Kid Acne has teamed up with Jaz Kahina and Vandal Savage on the track Transistors. It immediately grabs me with its hook about transistors picking up ancestors. The backing track is slightly funky with a looped horn riff playing over Big Beat-like production while the mix of male and female rappers keeps things flowing. Clever breakz and an interesting mid-section help lift this up a level too. But it is that repeating hook that gets inside my head and ought to be the key to Kid Acne bagging some decent airplay for this little gem of a track.

Regular readers will know that I love Urban music that has an audibly regional flavour and Psimitar, who I have written about previously, are a good example, wearing their Geordie (that’s Newcastle-Upon-Tyne for readers not familiar with British colloquialisms) roots on their sleeves. New track Better Believe It is a joyous slice of smooth Hip Hop with sweet synth tones playing jazz-infused chords over a funky Old Skool beat and a bassline straight out of the Loose Ends/Freeez school. The rap is unmistakably North Eastern [albeit adorned with a few slight Londonisms!] while the sung vocals are soulful. Imagine a Geordie Warren G teaming up with Craig David while Missy Elliot directs events and you might come close to envisaging this heartwarming track. Better still, go and listen to the track.

Given that we are friends I could just ask but I am intrigued as to whether the appearance of recent new single Fireman and FOTN submission Ready For Love represent a conscious shift in musical direction for Ruinz Ason. Produced, as usual, by his younger brother and fellow artist JFlames, Fireman moves away from the psychedelic Hip Hop of his Space: The Journey Home … album and recent forays into Grime. This is buoyant, poppy R’n’B with resonant vocal production, syncopated bass and drums pattern and a ready-made radio-friendly melody.

Ready for love takes this apparent transition a stage further with a dreamy reverberant guitar figure playing over light but crisp offbeat drum programme and minimal bass notes while the melody and harmonies are R’n’B with a large dose of Pop and Caribbean flavours. It is sparse and translucent allowing the vocals to dominate. Soulful and groovy too. Ruinz Ason has always been able to stand out for his versatility and refusal to always do what others expect of him. These two tracks represent another twist in his ongoing tale. Whether they are a fascinating diversion or a statement of [immediate] future intent, they are both great tracks. I look forward to seeing and hearing what he does next.

Brapurple hails from Takoradi in Ghana and makes thoughtful, reflective Hip Hop and R’n’B that blends intelligent lyrics with translucent musical backdrops. His rapping style reminds me a little of Loyle Carner with a hint of Common and he can sing well which brings the likes of Nelly to mind too. New single Lane 3 (Freestyle) is self-observational in the context of what else is happening around him and has a stream-of-consciousness feel. The music is slow-to-mid-tempo and has a hazy summer night feel. It is a positive combination and a fine track.

Soulful Sensibilities

In Edition 59, I wrote about the amazing London Funksters Prime Panda. Now their new single Love Departed has been released and it finds them in mid-tempo Psych-Funk-Soul territory. The keyboard riff is mind-spinning and would not be out of place on an electro-prog track while the guitar is crisp and Anthony picks out some seriously jazz-infused chops, buoyed by a fluid funky bass and drums backdrop. With this exotic mix beneath her, Tess starts off laid back but, as ever, with that distinct edge to her vocals and, as the song picks up pace, her voice soars and swoops with intent. There are two major shifts in tempo and groove that are so effortless and brilliantly introduced by the drums that they just underline the top-notch musicianship that runs throughout this band. The writing is imaginative, clever but energetically charged up too.

There is really no-one out there doing quite what Prime Panda are doing right now [although they could still be at the centre of an exciting new wave of UK Funk and Acid Jazz alongside Kenna, Jealous Tina, Juices and a Drum et al]. Either way, it is time for the wider world to be introduced to Prime Panda’s life-affirming deluxe Funk music.

The new single by EDBL sees Ed team up with singer Ella McMurray on the track Simple Life. It has characteristic EDBL trademarks of funky syncopated rhythms, sweet jazz-infused keyboard chords and lush harmonies. Ella McMurray’s soulful, yearning voice adds another element of quality to this appealing backdrop. The slightly ethereal resonant vocal production is a great touch, almost like Alicia Keys in a mash with Corinne Bailey-Rae with Stevie Wonder lurking in the background. It’s quite a poppy track too but with that unmistakable Soul edge.

Brighton quartet Yakul could also join Prime Panda in a new wave of Acid Jazz. Or perhaps we should call it Psych-Funk. With a funky beat, spine-tingling chords and an irresistible hook, Wrong Way has echoes of early Jamiroquai in a jam with Bruno Mars while D’Influence officiate. It rides along, helped by trippy keyboard figures and vocal harmonies in open fourths and fifths, exuding inventiveness, musicianship and melodic flair in equal measure.

Staying in Brighton, another TTD regular is Jak Chantler’s Short Sharp Scratch and this month he has teamed up with singer Aimee Montague and a bunch of accomplished instrumentalists to record the track Reggie which duly stormed into the Fresh on the Net faves. Aimee’s vocals and the accompanying BVs are an absolute delight. Soulful, dexterous and dynamic. The track is sassy and has some superbly squelchy eighties synths playing off against the crisp drums, funky bass, picking guitar and chord-based keys. Jak’s guitar playing is gorgeous too with shades of Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter in his Steely Dan years. It is also catchy as hell and lifts the mood. A classy, energetic and appealing track performed both with polished professionalism and real emotional commitment.

The inimitable Chinwe is back with a song called Scar Tissue which has already caught the ears of Jamz Supernova and stormed into the Fresh on the Net faves in the week I was reviewing. Scar Tissue sits in a sassy mid-tempo groove. Long synth chords play against bright programmed drums. Chinwe’s instantly recognisable voice dominates and is adorned by cool harmonies. The soundscape is translucent and the quiet synths in the background have a kind of watery quality. She has a deceptively lazy sounding delivery that actually achieves a lovely sense of hanging back against the precision of the beat. In my FOTN review I referred to shades of Erkah Badu in a mash with Ms Dynamite while Yasmin Lacey adds flavours. But of course it is Chinwe and no-one really sounds like her. Another belter.

Not strictly Soul but certainly Soul influenced, London duo Kit Sebastian record for Mr Bongo and have a track out called Elegy For Love. It has a Latinesque feel with bass descending in semi-tones over major, minor and diminished chords with horn stabs and melodies, swirly strings and resonant instrumental production accompanying Merve’s vocals which switch between sultry spoken word and yearning soulful singing. Kit and Merve also spend time in France and Turkey while their influences include Anatolian Psychedelia, Brazilian Tropicana, 60s European Pop and American Jazz. On Elegy For Love, they have certainly created a big pop track with a killa hook, plenty of style and a large tablespoon or two of South American jazz flavouring. The result is pretty delicious.

The Vic C Project, brainchild of Mort Cohen, are regulars in this blog. That is because Mort keeps producing belting tracks. And The Spectrum is one such track. Jazzy, funky and sassy, it is as if the James Taylor Quartet have teamed up with Joe Sample and brought in a cool female vocalist to add a sugary soprano soulfulness to the mix. Despite these retro references, it has a contemporary edge thanks both to the style of the writing and the vocal melody. The little bursts of Rhodes piano are pure Jazz fusion though. A delightful cocktail of melodic sensibility, loose-limbed dexterity and great musicianship. Can’t go wrong with that combination!

Malaki hails from Folkestone in deepest Kent and makes classy sophisticated Soul tracks infused with jazz keyboard chords, programmed beat and syncopated keyboard figures playing off against his smokily expressive vocals and unexpected rap. There is an aura of Bill Withers in a mash with Justin Timberlake about the vocals although in sound rather than style. The melody will grab you and haul you in, aided and abetted by a simple but lovely instrumental backdrop.

Leo Lore is quite an enigma with little info on his Soundcloud page. His track Blue Print is a revelation though. Staccato piano chords and consistent beat accompany the verses while the melody and chords in the chorus remind me a bit of Gabriel by Roy Davis Jnr even though they are quite different stylistically. Leo has a yearning, soulful voice that is full of character and he nails this slightly dark but impressive track. It is haunting and slightly ethereal, topped off by a tasty sax solo near the end.

I was scratching my head over where to review Cherry Dragon and I forgot. It definitely is not Soul but it is soulful and it doesn’t really fit in Urban or Synthematic. The backdrop is watery, syncopated and has some beautifully produced synth lines over which Cherry Dragon’s vocals are yearning, dynamic and emotionally charged. The sparse arrangement is perfect for her commanding vocal presence and she delivers a heart-rending, platinum-toned performance. Very special indeed.

Club Culture

Friday 24th September saw the release of the new single by Pimlican ft Josie on Belgrave Road Records. The pair, who have now released three back to back singles together, had given their first ever live performance with a storming set at Tomorrow Calling Festival earlier in the month and their live rendition of Without You appeared on Ed 33 of Upstream. The track is trademark Pimlican with tough-as-hell funky House beat accompanying trademark Josie with gutsy, powerful vocal and superb harmonies. The track has already caught the ears of BBC Introducing in Manchester. It is also enjoying rotation on two of my three radio shows. A review in Subba-Cultcha precedes this one and streams are moving rapidly in the right direction. They are already close to finishing another track. This partnership is set to run and run and both artists are producing fantastic work as a consequence of it.

It is difficult to know where to review Muby Beats and the track Warmth. It has a Hip Hop-style beat with an agreeably snappy snare and deep kick but the track is an instrumental based around wobbly slightly jazz-infused piano chords playing with understated bassline and occasional quiet synth tones. It goes around the same pattern with slight variations, all the while exuding a chilled downtempo after-party vibe that wraps itself around you like a comfortable blanket. Warmth indeed.

No such problem placing Shears with Face. This is high tempo Tech-Pop with a relentless four-to-the-floor beat, legato synths and octave jumping bassline accompanying Shears’ powerful voice, allowing her plenty of room to showcase her vocal agility. It is radio-friendly tuneful EDM with oodles of synth and harmonies in an epic chorus. A definite banger.

Well you knew it was never likely to be long before another track by DMP Tunes hit this blog and so it is with Mr President. Swirling, cinematic and ginormous, this track flies out of the speakers and fills the room in an instant with its big, mystical themes, build-ups of drums and electro-tech episodes between the statements of the main melody amid a fluid series of soundscapes. Epic seems too small a word to describe music and sound of such cinematic ambition. Life-affirming.

The ever-consistent Rezzonator returns with a new track called Float. By his standards, this is quite laid back. A rumbling piano plays off against legato synths and persistent beat to create a melodic EDM piece that nods to Trance and House but isn’t really either. It’s a track that could work as a floor filla but could so easily be an after party chillout choon. Great either way.

Singer-Songwriters

It was a pleasant surprise this month to receive the track Green Light by NHS worker, mum and singer-songwriter Kelly Cresswell. A sort of hybrid of Pop, Country, Folk and Americana, it is organic, catchy, tastefully arranged with some gorgeous guitar interaction and Kelly’s distinct, appealing alto range voice at its centre. It is, to some extent, a throwback but it is fresh, emotionally affecting and topped off with some sweet harmonies. A reminder that good songwriting is a timeless talent

Another new name to me is London-based Anna Vincent whose track Thin Skin is taken from her album Under The Glass. Lovely guitar picking and chord play dominates the backing track while Anna’s yearning vocal, sometimes tracked for contrast, delivers a melancholy melody and honest harshly self-analysing lyric. The chorus is dynamic in contrast to the more laid back verses. Influences are hard to pinpoint but there are shades of Samantha Crain in a mash with Alice Phoebe Lou and Ruth Radelet. The songwriting is outstanding and the chorus tugs at the heartstrings. Everything balances just perfectly to wrap up a really fine track.

Versatile singer-songwriter Crawford Mack grew up in Aberdeen and Glasgow in the North and West respectively of Scotland before studying jazz at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. In the time since he has developed his craft, fusing a diverse array of influences in the act of making thoughtful songs like Listen with your eyes. Not surprisingly, for a song with a metaphorical title, the lyrics are full of further metaphors. Self-reflective and semi-autobiographical maybe although it is hard to tell what the subject matter or inspiration for the song might be. What is clear is that the song has a Folk sensibility at its core and yet is infused with subtle jazz references, a bluesy expressiveness and a haunting melody that is all the more potent in the hands of an artist blessed with a rich baritone-tenor range voice. Quality songwriting and delivered with a touch of class.

Based mostly in the idyllic Scottish islands of the Hebrides but sometimes in London too, Larry Mindel is a latecomer to a music career, having had a complete other career beforehand. But he has wasted no time in honing his current craft and catching my ears among others. On new single Okarito Ways, Larry pays tribute to one of the surviving wetlands that needs protecting from the idiocy of governments and developers. It is trademark Larry Mindel, his beautiful and unusual voice hovering, floating and swooning over jazz-infused chords, a rich instrumental arrangement and a tasty piano solo played by session musician Alastair Gavin. The songwriting is haunting, original and sophisticated; the melody captivating and every element oozes class. It may have taken a long time for Larry Mindel to embark upon this new journey but, for the rest of us, it has been worth the wait for songs and performances of such depth and quality.

I could have reviewed Lucie Cholot’s Worthy in one of several sections so I decided on Singer-Songwriter. I had the pleasure of meeting Lucie in an online session I was involved in with the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance and heard this song then for the first time. Built around picking electric guitar, it wastes no time in bringing Lucie’s distinct and appealing voice to the fore and adding a harmony to boot. As the song develops, it takes on an epic feel with crashing chords, powerful drums and lush harmonies. In some ways the songwriting is quite traditional, mainly focused around simple chord patterns with an anthemic chorus. But there are enough nuances and one-off figures to lift this up a notch and Lucie’s voice, solo or harmonised, brings an effortless quality. Great ending too.

Synthematic

Birmingham’s Rosie Tee only makes tracks that are full of imagination, sophistication and creativity. So it is with Anchors. Taken from her 6-track EP Earth, Embrace Me (out tomorrow, 1st October), it has swirling, enigmatic synth chords, an array of unidentified ambient sounds and some unusual percussion features. A mid-tempo 6/8 [triplet time] groove emerges from the buzzy synth pad intro played on single bass tones but, at times, it breaks down to the most minimal hits while the ambient sounds take over. All the while Rosie’s distinct voice flickers and flutters above it all recalling Kate Bush in a mash with Bjork while Julia Holter drops in with chops. It’s an atmospheric, dynamic and highly inventive track and a refreshing reminder of her individuality and flair.

The ever-prolific Kiffie has hit us with a slow, yearning and rueful slice of contemporary Synth Pop called No more pictures please that has shades of Black (Colin Vearncombe) in a mash with early McAlmont but with a touch of Chvrches and Gnarls Barkley thrown into the mix. Kiffie’s voice is really striking and cuts through the surrounding lo-fi mix of synth, piano and programmed beat, dominating the track and keeping me hooked throughout. Epic, emotionally charged and firm evidence that sometimes it pays to just keep things simple.

Newcastle [Upon Tyne] band The Old Pink House have a track called Digital Romance no.

No no no that has a cinematic synth-driven quality like Future Islands jamming with Everything Everything while Talk Talk throw ideas into the pot. The singer has a strong upper register voice that soars at times as the track builds and the epic chorus kicks in. Production and playing are bright, colourful and packed with controlled energy. Heartwarming, ambitious Pop and thoroughly enjoyable.

Telefis is a cross-Atlantic collaboration between Microdisney’s Cathal Coughlan (now based in South East London) and Garret ‘Jacknife’ Lee (now based in Los Angeles), composer and producer with U2, REM and others among his credits. It is also yet another cool release by Brian O’Neill’s amazing Peckham-based Dimple Discs label (or perhaps that should be amazing Brian’s label …). Telefis is the Gaelic word for Television and they say the project examines the ‘corrosive nostalgia’ of Irish History and Pop Culture in their lifetimes. The track Mister Imperator tells the tale of a once-popular pianist and light entertainer. It has a lovely syncopated synth-driven energy with a hint of Talking Heads but otherwise more in Hot Chip meets Metronomy territory with a dash of LCD Soundsystem too perhaps. Cathal’s vocal is distinct and appealing while the sound combination underpinning the track is sumptiously squelchy and slightly stuttering. There’s even a Neil Hannon-like quality to the verses. The BVs in the chorus deliver a cool hook. This is fresh, funky and laced with a dark humour. Total thumbs up.

The prolific West London artist Mari Dangerfield has another new single out. Screen Time continues her penchant for picking interesting topics for her lyrics. This one observes, with a sardonic air, the amount of time people spend staring at screens of one or other type or size these days. This is set to a chugging synth bass, precise beat and more keyboard inventiveness while, as always, a fine melody is rapidly boosted by intricate vocal harmonies, enabling Mari’s unique voice to multiply and dominate the track. Shades of Julia Holter in a jam with Metronomy while Viriginia Astley adds ingredients. Moreover Mari has a sound that is distinct and instantly recognisable [as witnessed when I played this on my radio show and listeners had guessed who it was within seconds]. That is one of the most important assets you need in today’s oversubscribed pop world. Mari seems to be taking such challenges in her stride.

Unless things have materially changed, young DD Shine works with her dad as This Elegant Gull and, even after several years of impressing the hell out of radio and other media peeps, she is still only a youngster. Yet, on She’s scared she’s fallen, the maturity of her lyrics, vocal performance and songwriting are exceptional. With a quirky, deliberately disjointed and jerky arrangement of spiky synths and almost metallic drum programme, this track takes her into darker, more sinister territory that underlines her continuing development as an artist who should be on your radar if she isn’t already. Another great track from this excellent artist.

Electronic & Ambient

It is always exciting when Hannya White has new material out and 8th October sees the release of Wanna See. Other than a few partly audible spoken words and phrases, it is instrumental and has many of Hannya’s trademarks - pizzicato and staccato string notes dropping like raindrops here and there; deep daunting buzzes that sound like she is drilling a hole in the music so that events might collapse inwards at any point; bendy synths and a variety of ambient noises. Events are fluid and the rhythmic structure is deliberately vague which, like the raindrop-like notes, has echoes of Ligeti mixing it with Brian Eno and Delia Derbyshire while Pierre Schaeffer adds vibes. There is also an Eastern [possibly North Indian meditative] element here with the arrangement of scalic notes that form a sort of outlying melody. Big buzzy chords growl beautifully at the track’s foundation while the electronic percussion hits have the aura of found sounds and a phaser effect on the synth notes is just gorgeous. There is literally no-one out there doing what Hannya does the way Hannya does it. The little crackling endpiece is a great touch too and totally unexpected. So good.

Two regulars in these pages are involved in a Transatlantic collaboration. South London’s Leg Puppy, fresh from playing one of the most thrilling live sets we have experienced at my last Vanishing Point gig, have got together with Californian artist Violent Vickie. The track is called Turn it up Keith and it finds Vickie (Valent) delivering a soft-spoken but compelling spoken word in full-on telephone voice over what, by Darren’s standards, is a relatively laid back slice of futuristic Electronica. It is a track that grows with each listen and soon becomes impossible to switch off.

Scottish artist Anatomy grabbed my attention this month with an otherworldly, quietly constructing and deconstructing arc of ambient sound entitled Singles Club. He keeps the soundscape minimal with warm synths and strings swirling and sweeping their way around quieter glissando piano. The patterns alter gradually like a Minimalist concept while the dynamics increase and decrease in intensity by small degrees, never rising to any great crescendo. Spacy sounds appear in the final stages as if the track is preparing to take-off into another cosmos. Superbly done.

Leeds is, as regular readers will know, a hotbed of musical invention and the Electronic and LoFi duo Keep Back Ivy are one of the city’s great recent discoveries. On New Skin they have brought in another TTD favourite Dan Parsons aka Amongst The Pigeons to remix. The result is a fascinating and enigmatic track that has a laid back but trippy feel with looped synths and echo vocals before the beat arrives and a different synth figure repeats while the [female] vocal is sparse but dynamic. It glides along, gradually changing hue and shade. Occasionally events arrive out of the blue and add a different dimension to the track. A little dark but light in texture and thoroughly enjoyable.

A truly ethereal extended (15 mins 33 secs) work arrives from Eggboy in the form of Ambient Elf. In essence it is a 1-track EP. It finds the Cambridge-based duo creating an enigmatic soundscape in which synths and electronic sounds intertwine and an appealing spaciness ensues. The spectrum of ambient sounds and how they have woven them together to create such open-ended harmonic ideas is really stunning. There is a mystical filmic aura to parts of the track while sometimes rich harmony appears and disappears. But mostly it is the magnificence of the contrasting textures and the beauty and tranquility of the quieter moments that really lift this above almost any Electronic or Ambient work I have heard this month.

Incidentally also worth checking out is their 21 minute odyssey Cell which has some of the same attributes as Ambient Elf.

Epic tracks seem to be the order of the day in this section with Richard Davies’s latest offering, I Promise This, being a 9 minute odyssey through a series of ambient sections of deliciously unstable synths playing semi-contrapuntally in contrasting polyrhythms while ambient effects and electronic loops add to the repetitive and yet fluid nature of the music. In one sense it exudes a stressed, unpredictable atmosphere and yet it is strangely calming and alluring.

There is precious little in the way of blurb or links on the Soundcloud page for Fabian Sanher and nothing to tell me who is doing what on the track Lullaby Pt 2. But it places an operatic soprano vocal on a light, ambient slice of electronic invention. There is a quiet male spoken word thing going on behind the vocal and some male voices come and go. It is certainly an intriguing juxtaposition of musical worlds and ideas. A persistent tambourine, probably programmed, runs throughout.

South East London artist Trevas makes clever, imaginative synth and electronic music as demonstrated on Acraa Hoot Hoot. A lovely simple melody in two-part texture repeats in one octave and then the one above before giving way to another tune based on a four-note figure. The beat is light but consistent and the entire track has a lovely translucence that brings every nuance out with prominence. It reminds me almost of a cross between incidental music such as the BBC once played to accompany test cards and a subtly Latinesque take on the French band Air. Moreover it is a breath of fresh air that demands to be heard.

Iplu is the new recording moniker for Lewes, Sussex-based artist Arthur ‘Junior’ Robinson, previously known for W3imaraner, and is described as ‘a fresh start’. On Ayahuasca 6, he begins with soft enigmatic synth tones setting an ambient and harmonically vague impressionistic soundscape before a beat comes along that is frantic and leans towards an electronic version of Drum’n’Bass. A synth melody plays over synth arpeggios and the feel goes from mystical to computer game-like. It is enjoyable, full of unexpected turns and deconstructs nicely in the closing phase.

TTD regular Morphamish has collaborated with Jackal Trades as Morphamish & Jackal Trades; bringing East and West Scotland together on the track On it again. Driving electro beat and and an array of repeating, bubbling, crackling and fizzing electronic sounds accompany an intense and relentless vocal. The lyrics sound like a celebration of the return of live music. It is certainly an upbeat track that sizzles with energy throughout.

Contemporary Classical & Sound Art

From the album Agor, Unclassified [with Elizabeth Alker] played a track by Koreless, a London-based Welsh composer and music/sound artist. It pulls together a series of strands, part-electronic ambient, part Eastern classical and part-drone based. The music is mystical and sits mainly around a few harmonic ideas but it is the striking sounds he achieves that are so mind-spinning including the way, as Elizabeth Alker put it, the track evaporates at the end. Agor is the Welsh word for Open. I will be delving into the album when I get some down time.

MrUnderwood is Sam Underwood from Worcester and the track Indy is an example of how this musical instrument designer and sound artist utilises the most unique and unusual sounds, in this case around a constant harmonic drone where pitches alter in a bendy fashion while ambient sounds revolve around this central pivot. Shades of Brian Eno’s Reflections but this is more fluid and unstable in a delightful and engaging way.

It might be stretching things to describe Plïnkï Plønkï’s Psalm for a sunken moon (solo piano) as contemporary classical. It is, in essence, a very simple piano piece in traditional style whose reference points are more 19th than 21st Century. But it is cast in such a quiet sense of ambience that it manages to sound modern, probably because of the simplicity of the harmonic language and the actual sound of the piano which is resonant and sounds more like a Practise Room Upright than a Concert Grand. Its insistently soft repetitive four and five note left hand figure is almost Minimalist in its scarcely altering pitch order while the right hand is sometimes lively and upper register and sometimes non-existent. It could have been a failure but it works because it sticks to its guns and does not overstay its welcome.

Durham’s Glenn Maltman is such a fine and versatile musician and composer. On Alchemy, he combines a dreamy resonant upper register piano fantasia with rueful sounding strings and other subtle nuances to create a classical piece that could easily find its way into a movie soundtrack. It has both a calming tranquility and an overarching sense of sadness. It is also meticulously arranged and played so that not a note is wasted and, while the harmonic and rhythmic language may not seek to challenge, they are fluid and chromatic as well as produced in a thoroughly contemporary manner. Another demonstration of Glenn’s first class creativity.

Northern English composer Matt Mereport brings us Isolation Etude 7. It’s a curious title given that an etude is a study. Perhaps what he means is it is a study on the use of strings that was conceived in isolation. The mood is a little dark and quite circumspect, the harmonies developing through long overlapping legato tones. It is beautifully and carefully arranged, stirring and full of harmonic inventiveness.

Jazz & International Journeys

Keyboard wizard and composer David Kofi is also the frontman in Juices and a Drum (see Urban Flavas). He has a two-track single out entitled Kokoro (Japanese for Heart, Mind and Soul). Tsuro is essentially a contemporary take on lush piano-dominated Jazz with a cool understated urban beat and a style that has unmistakable echoes of Herbie Hancock and maybe a little of Julian Joseph and other greats too. It is sophisticated, fluid and life-affirming. For Shinko (ft James Mollison), he has assembled a band of accomplished players, one of whom is the aforementioned saxophonist James Mollison. The vibe is lightly funky, understated. A little of Weather Report about it maybe but leaning also towards Kamasi Washington territory, melodic and rich but also allowing plenty of space for improv that it is impressively non-indulgent. Like Emma Johnson’s Gravy Boat, this is another group of young jazz-influenced artists led from the front by one individual and revitalising Jazz Fusion by placing it in a refreshingly modern framework.

Jospehine Pascoe has teamed up with her usual partner-in-crime Neil Thom on a new single called Juniper and it is her jazziest track for a while. Between them they cover six bases with Josephine on piano, strings and flute and Neil on Guitar, Bass and Drums. This is all the more impressive for the high standard of musicianship and organic playing. The piano chords, light popping bass and drums set the tone while the strings and flute appear and disappear in burst of sound and the guitar grows in prominence towards the latter part of the track. A long list of classic Jazz Fusion artists pop into my head at different times although it has a TV theme-like element that leans a little towards Mike Post in his work with Larry Carlton. Add some Mike Stern, Joe Sample and Al Di Meola to the list too perhaps. It is tastefully done and full of the kinds of chords that make me go ‘ooh’. Life-affirming contemporary Jazz Fusion.

Sean Maher and his associated group of clubbers are The Greedy Beat Syndicate and, according to their Soundcloud blurb, they like hooks and they like to dance. Can’t say fairer than that! Their latest track is called Coltrane but, other than [simulated] sax runs here and there, this is more James Taylor Quartet than John or Alice Coltrane. Funky, fast and busy with bass popping and sliding over consistent beat, it is dominated mostly by vibrato organ playing a mix of jazz-infused chords and themes with events interrupted every so often by other sounds (keybard sax, horn stabs, spoken voice). It may not be the most obvious Coltrane tribute but it is an entertaining slice of Acid Jazz-style Funk.

London-based saxophonist Alex Hitchcock has teamed up with singer Midori Jaeger on the track Wolf and Nina. Very ably assisted by a top-notch band, Alex gets to stretch out with some mellow improvisation and rhapsodic play while Midori’s voice is haunting, her rich alto tones and effortless ability setting out an unusual and engaging melody as the fluid chords and keys alter around her. The piano chords at the end add a touch of Joe Zawinul to an already excellent track.

Folk & Country Fare

Singer-songwriter Tom Bright embarks upon a UK tour with a new single out called If I met your shadow. It is as organic and simple as it gets in terms of arrangement, a single softly strummed and picked acoustic guitar accompanying his slightly gruff voice on a song that has echoes of writers like Natalie Merchant in a mash with Loudon Wainwright III while Jeff Buckley looks on. The stripped down presentation works because of the strength of the songwriting and because of Tom’s voice which is bluesy, expressive and demanding of attention despite his relatively laid back style. The single was released on 24th September and is on digital platforms.

As previously noted in these pages Folkatron Sessions record for the Oxford label Upcycled Sounds and their latest offering, Flower of Magherally (live) is another ethereal and reflective slice of Alt-Folk-Pop with what sounds like pizzicato Cello playing a prominent figure against a sparse backdrop of tuned percussion. The female vocal is soft but assured and alluring, setting out a Celtic-inspired tune that stretches across her Soprano range as the song develops and legato strings add a mellow layer to the proceedings. Tremolo strings also appear behind the more assertive sounds and the open fourths vocal harmonies are quite lovely. Another very good track from Folkatron Sessions.

Reviewing The Summer has flown by Birmingham artist Katherine Priddy not long after returning from the very early morning walk my wife and myself indulge in most days seems somewhat apt since it was dark for the entire hour and a half that we were out. The summer has indeed flown and Katherine provides a lament for its passing that is folky and organic with picking guitar and her distinct voice in the verse. She then rises up into the most stirring of choruses with big harmonies. The slow fading out of the refrain with her ghostly harmonies disappearing further and further into the mist is really effective and gave me butterflies. A beautiful and extremely clever song.

If you used to follow The X Factor, you may remember the young (17 in fact) Irish singer Janet Devlin who, in 2011, was one of the favourites to win before she was undone by the ridiculous demand on contestants to sing in a variety of styles they would never be expected to sing in if they actually had a career in music. Imagine telling Beyonce you were dropping her because she didn’t sound right singing an X Ray Specs song in ‘Punk Week’ (not that the show would ever have entertained such a concept!)!

As a consequence, the public were robbed of the opportunity to see whether Janet Devlin might have gone on to win the series. Wind the clock on ten years and she has been building a steady career for herself as an artist writing and recording Folk, Country and Americana driven Pop such as on A place called home. It breezes along at a fairly quick tempo with a Country-tinged undercurrent (or perhaps Country Rock would be more accurate), guitars strumming and jangling brightly while Janet’s engaging voice is strong and melodic. The hook is infectious and the organic nature of the arrangement amplifies the sense of driving on open roads through miles of glorious scenery. Who needs ‘Rock Week’ when you have heartwarming Transatlantic style Pop like this to enjoy! She gets my vote.

Hollie Rogers is one of the amazing artists on the Talentbanq roster and the song Youth (feat. Redtenbacher's Funkestra) sees her deliver an energetic, dynamic hybrid of Country and Americana with subtle slide guitar here and there while she strums away on the acoustic, surrounded by big production, fierce keys, sweet harmonies and power drums. Riding atop this great momentum sits Hollie’s gutsy, bluesy vocal which is distinct, dominating and impossible to deny. Epic, brilliantly arranged and executed with style and commitment.

PART THREE: OTHER COMMENTARIES        

What has happened to the Streaming Debate?

About six months ago, music industry and media pages were overflowing with talk of a large scale debate about the future of digital streaming and how artists and writers are remunerated. It has been a hot potato since the day Spotify arrived on the scene and, as the market for music consumption has shifted from physical stock to digital downloads to streams, the chorus of complaints from underpaid artists and writers [and indeed indie labels and publishers] has increased in volume. In early 2021, the government and the industry promised a full-scale review of streaming with a view to making it both fair on artists and those financing them and realistic for the streaming platforms. But, in recent months, it has gone ominously quiet.

This debate is never an easy one. It is absurdly simplistic to portray a stream as being the direct equivalent of a record sale in pre-digital times. When we had to buy vinyl singles and albums from record shops, we were forced to budget. So, for example, if we only had £9.99 for a month’s worth of purchases, we would have to choose between, in simple terms, one album and maybe a single or ten singles. With streaming, we get to pay £9.99 per month for our subscription but can stream hundreds of tracks. It enables us to buy [or, in real terms, rent] tracks we would not even consider buying if we had to pay full price for them. So, when a little known artist complains that he or she achieved thousands of streams and only received a modest payout, that is why. If they are treating streams as being the direct equivalent of record sales, they are not being realistic and their sense of having been robbed is greatly exaggerated. The tiresome cliché of the plumber analogy has been done to death and is grossly misleading.

Nevertheless the balance has tipped far too much in favour of the streaming platforms. They are making huge profits from this model which is customer-friendly but treats the people creating their stock as sacrificial lambs. Without pressure from governments or regulators, there has been no incentive for the likes of Spotify, Apple or Deezer to re-evaluate how they remunerate the rights owners. As a consequence, even if a customer saves an artist’s track to their library [as opposed to simply playing it], the artist is likely to receive a small fraction of a penny and the amount can vary according to how their algorithms function with the net result being that smaller artists and labels who do not have the marketing budgets and reach to achieve vast volumes are the ones who lose out on the average paid per stream.

There have been one or two high profile attempts by well-known artists to vote with their feet by boycotting the likes of Spotify or even setting up their own equivalents. But that may be an option when you are already a billionaire pop star. It is not an option for the thousands of independent grassroots artists and labels who need the lifeline of digital distribution at low cost in order to make their work accessible to potential fanbases.

Yes there is Bandcamp which offers a low cost approach to selling digital downloads in addition to making all kinds of other merchandise and physical stock available too. Bandcamp is, without question, a beacon for independent artists although, for labels, it can be the opposite. The charge for a label to have an account with all its artists’ stock available, is actually quite an impediment to using Bandcamp unless that label is receiving a healthy monthly income from digital sales. So even Bandcamp needs to consider whether it could do more to encourage start-up and niche labels to have their own pages. There is no incentive to pay £20 per month [or whatever it now costs] for this service when your turnover for some months may be nowhere near that figure.

What we need is a properly informed debate. For that to happen, we need the following key principles to be agreed. Firstly there needs to be commitment from the UK government, the streaming platforms and organisations like BPI and AIM that they will not only participate in a detailed review but that they will honour and implement its recommendations. Secondly it must involve the right mix of interest groups. Representatives should be there from the above-mentioned parties as well as the Musicians’ Union, the Ivors, Music Managers Forum, Bandcamp, Amazon and also some carefully chosen individual artists, songwriters, composers, publishers etc. who reflect not only the vastly differing turnovers and levels of affluence of those affected but also involve women, black and minorirty ethnic people, disabled, LGBT + and the most disadvantaged age groups. You may question why that matters when dealing with streaming which is about identifying a fair rate. But it does matter in terms of getting perspectives from the greatest variety of stakeholders and inspiring confidence in all groups that their opinions have been influential.

The attitude of successive right of centre governments to music and the arts has traditionally been negative. This was demonstrated quite starkly again in recent months with a 50% cut in support for arts education despite the UK having the fastest growing Creative Industries in the world which make up an increasingly important part in the UK’s economy. At least the government could show some interest in supporting creative music artists by promising to legislate to force streaming platforms to remunerate more fairly. In turn, that threat is likely to persuade the streaming platforms to begin taking steps to make the system not only fairer but also more transparent and accountable.

I will watch with interest whether this debate simply fizzles out and nothing changes or whether we get the review we have been promised. If the industry itself wants to be seen to be acting in the interest of artists and writers, it could play its own high priority role in agitating for this review to take place. Time will tell.

AND FINALLY .......

Well, the summer is now officially over and Autumn is here. Dare I mention the C-Word? Yes folks, we will increasingly hear how many weeks we are from Christmas and, before we know it, the shopping centres and large stores will be pumping out the most inane versions of the same Christmas songs we have to endure year on year. Not everyone will agree with me on this but it is why I say thank heavens for Slade, The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, Wizzard and the other decent Christmas hits! In the meantime, I have a busy live music schedule to see through until December and I hope I can persuade some of you to buy the very reasonably priced advance tickets for my Vanishing Point and Trust The Doc Live gigs which continue to be monthly for the remainder of the year. I am working hard to find opportunities to give exposure to as many grassroots music artists as possible and, in the meantime, my three weekly radio shows, the twice-monthly Upstream and this monthly blog directly tie in with that work.

All of which leads me not only to repeat my thanks and gratitude to the amazing people at the Arts Council of England and National Lottery whose support makes it possible for me to do this work. But also a big thank you to Yannis Iliopolous and Ken Foreman at the wonderful Institute of Contemporary Music Performance for welcoming me onto their team as a freelance music lecturer dealing with several different modules that utilise parts of my knowledge and experience. And of course a massive thank you to all you wonderful people who read this blog, listen to my shows and, where possible, come to the live events. The loving community around grassroots music is amazing.

I must reserve a special mention to my hard-working friends Sue Oreszczyn and Pete Cogle with whom I run the Grassroots Music Network and to the Royal Society for the Arts Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) for enabling the network. Wow, so many people to thank. Just leaves me to say take care everyone, have a great month and see you all on 31st October for more extensive news, reviews and opinions.

Neil xxxx