Caii : Fuel, single released August 2019

A new single from Manchester-based writer/singer/producer/instrumentalist and all-round new musical force Caii. With a sound that is bold strikes of electronic percussion punctuated with synthesiser textures, her songs take their time to build an atmospheric lifeforce of their own – pulling in the listener as her rich singing voice flows and cajoles.

On her previous EP ‘Tease’, lead track ‘Rush’ moved from a conversational lyric-driven verse into a big bold stately anthem, while ‘The Carousel’ was a more playful, pulsing piece of electronica with multi voices and spiky percussion. ‘Slowly’ was an unstoppable cinematic ballad blowing in across the savannah and echoing with power and despair. She has also recorded a brooding cover of Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’.

This new release ‘Fuel’ distills some elements from all of those previous tracks to create a monster pop song. The narration describes the corrosive balance of a relationship in uncompromising terms ‘…so insecure that you need me to be the same…you only treat me as a toy that you can break…’ and most disturbingly ‘….you’re only happy when you’re watching me in pain…..’. This is an emotionally strong lyric, delivered with conviction.

These heartfelt words are weaved into a constantly evolving tapestry of sound with unpredictable percussion adornments, swirling noise effects and sustained chords over a smooth bass progression. But towering above it all is the brilliant chorus, always driving the song to new heights. The synthetic strings build to a crescendo in the middle eight then back to the glorious hooklines; this is a majestic four and a half minutes of pop radiance….

Caii makes her live Cambridge debut at The Blue Moon on Friday 27 September 2019, see the link below…


https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pop-level-hydra-lerna-amethysts-caii-tickets-64634734230
https://www.iamcaii.com/

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Film Review of ‘Blinded By The Light’, released August 2019

After Yesterday we now have another music themed ‘feel-good hit of the summer’, this time it is Blinded By The Light featuring songs by Bruce Springsteen. On paper it seems an inviting but improbable prospect, a teenager uses the music as a channel of escape from family pressures in an industrially depressed Luton in the late 1980s, but in the hands of director Gurinder Chadha, co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor (based on his memoir) and brought to vivid life by newcomer Viveik Kalra it is an excellent summer watch.

Luton is not the most picturesque of towns except the rolling-ish hills (overlooking the A505?) that bookend the film, but the period detail is immaculate – chopper bike, a first ‘mobile’ phone, battered cassettes, and of course the British-made car models that time forgot. This creates a cosy glow of memory, but it is unflinchingly interwoven with some of the harsh realities – redundancy, unemployment and ingrained racism. The National Front march looks like an echo of current news but the more personal attacks and abuse were viscerally straight to the point (a fellow cinema-goer was audibly shocked).

Life in the sixth form college looked pretty good though, with its own radio station (playing A-ha and Debbie Gibson!), an array of musical ‘tribes’ in the canteen and the caring/inspiring English teacher (played by Hayley Atwell).

I don’t think Bruce would have been prominent on most sixth-formers radar at that time but when he appears on the ubiquitous Walkman worn by our hero Javed and the words swirl around in the gale (as seen on the TV being mis-forecast by Michael Fish!) the connection is made. ‘Dancing In the Dark’ may be an unlikely lyric to trigger this; I had previously considered it to be a lightweight pop single in the Boss’s canon but maybe I have misjudged it..!

The film continues to engross and engage with some sharply written cameos, thoughtful moments, relationship twists and turns and the music a touchstone to all the action. The unexpected ‘Born To Run’ semi-fantasy production number is a brilliant highlight, showing that from the moment you hear that introduction what a 100% rock classic this song is.

I saw Springsteen on a stadium tour; there is no doubt he is a brilliant live performer, with mastery of the crowd and the majesty of the E-Street band driving the extra long set to new heights, but it doesn’t have a huge resonance in my memory compared with some shows I have attended – so maybe a personal re-appraisal of his themes and lyrics is overdue? But there is no doubt that by weaving the music into the perception of a troubled and ambitious Luton teenager the director and actors have created a very special movie treat.

http://www.blindedbythelight-movie.net/

Gaffa Tape Sandy : Family Mammal, EP released August 2019

A super-long EP or mini-album from East Anglia’s finest power-rock trio Gaffa Tape Sandy. It is a follow-up to their acclaimed collection ‘Spring Killing’ from 2017 and builds on their reputation for brilliant live shows, which has been captured in the excellent ‘as-live’ production here.

After an insightful spoken introduction from young Isaac (‘…banging tunes!!…’), the opener ‘Beehive’ pushes all before it; unbearably catchy vocal lines, a descending chord sequence, an impassioned natural history lyric and guitar noise that could not be bettered. With the flexibility of two strong and contrasting singers the band can keep the momentum going with the excellent ‘Meat Head’, a timely reminder of attitudes to personal rights.
Both of these tracks have been previously released and are familiar live favourites but the newer ‘My Desperate House’ maintains the high standard. After the deceptive calm intro and the band raise the fireworks to full volume there is no doubt that this is another fine tune.

‘Headlights’ has a syncopated, choppy rhythm and with the dual vocals trading exchanges it refers to the mental health issues that cloud the lives of so many people. As on the rest of the album the production and mix on this track blend the basic trio of instruments into something really special.

Departing into the quick waltz time of ‘So Dry’ the band show their prowess when stretched into a song of contrasting light and dark sound levels, as also ‘Dinner Jacket’ which is a more sedate outing…..until the trio suddenly burst into full flight near the end!

‘Turnstile’ has an anthemic quality with explosive drumming and spiky bass playing, then the finale ‘Kill The Chord’ is a protest song about cuts to the arts and the closure of small venues. It is a reminder that the lifeblood of creativity is flowing through the veins of emerging bands, captured at their best in an intimate, packed performance space playing the sort of show at which Gaffa Tape Sandy excel…

https://www.gaffatapesandy.co.uk/

Smoke Fairies : Out Of The Woods, single released August 2019

Rejoice! the Smoke Fairies are back! After a tour in 2015 with Public Service Broadcasting (and their vocals on The Race For Space album) there was the highly regarded seasonal LP ‘Wild Winter’ and then silence. Now we have the release of a superb new single ‘Out Of The Woods’ with an accompanying video and the hope of more music to come.

With a confident guitar figure in the introduction this track has that brooding, relentless feel of the best of their work, including a lyric loaded with threat and ambiguity, ‘….. Like the tangled roots I grew into you…. in winter’s mires you burn your fires…and you burn me too…’.

Every element is in place; the verses are heavy with melancholy and questioning but it is the harmonies in the chorus that really drive the track along ‘….Out there in the trees…the branches moving…I want to follow you but you cut your path straight through me…’. Sparsely arranged to focus on the hypnotic guitar and unadorned drum beats this distinctive folk-rock soon has the listener under its spell.

The video has the duo playing guitar and running through London Docklands and Epping Forest while a semi-mythical figure blends with the boughs lit only by the occasional sunlight through the trees. All very atmospheric and mysterious, reminiscent of cult eighties movie ‘The Company of Wolves’, illustrating the light and dark of the track perfectly.

https://smokefairies.bigcartel.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/04/26/public-service-broadcasting-corn-exchange-cambridge-25-april-2015/

Elma, Babylon Gallery, Ely, 4 August 2019

Elma showcased their new line-up in the attractive setting of a riverside art gallery in the small cathedral city of Ely, well worth the short journey from Cambridge.
It had been a much longer trip from Ireland for singer/songwriter Darragh Cullen; he immediately made a connection with the audience as he performed a short collection of originals accompanied by his acoustic guitar and smooth background vocals from Sinead McConville.

‘Rising Tide’ set the tone for evocative, rhythmic-driven songs, given a personal touch with the description of life for twenty-somethings in Dublin’s ‘Bridge Street’. Darragh moved to piano for new song ‘Leave With Love’ then finished his fine set with a bit of audience singing for gospelly new single ‘Alright’.

It was the first Elma show for multi-instrumentalist and singer Rhiannon Penney, making a big impact in the first song ‘On Track’. In a new direction for the band, Rhiannon unleashed her inner Bonnie Raitt for a belting slice of double guitar blues rock. Having the extra instrumental options means more flexibility in their live set; with Rhiannon at the piano for ‘The Game’, a sinister waltz that could easily be a classic sixties TV theme.

When not playing his great-sounding semi-acoustic guitar Mark Ellis is a relaxed and witty frontman and he described the background to some of his newer compositions, including the elegiac ode to change ‘For Yesterday’ relating to the closure of music venues, as well as the romantic London skyline that inspired ‘City Lights’. This is a delicate but show-stopping ballad, beautifully sung by the duo with the subtlest of guitar backing.

Some of the more uptempo tracks from debut LP ‘Dreamland’ were re-imagined including a slower version of ‘Slo-Mo’ (the song that started off the band) and ‘California’ the stomping anthem I last saw performed with a full brass section at the Portland Arms album launch.

The new arrangements show the depth of the songwriting, with the two musicians able to complement each other and embellish the structures of each piece.

‘Help Me Make It Through The Night’ was a memorable song to cover for an encore (at the soulful pace of the Gladys Knight hit version) then this excellent show closed with their bittersweet Spector spectacular ‘September’.

Off into the studio soon and fired with enthusiasm the future looks bright for Elma…

https://www.facebook.com/elmaband/
https://www.facebook.com/darragh.cullen.54

(Photo by Paul Cullen)

Bug Teeth : When All The World Has Gone To Bed, EP released July 2019

Appropriately self-described as ‘…the sounds dreams make…’, this is a five track EP from electropop auteur Bug Teeth, originally digitally available in 2018 and now released as a CD version to tie in with various live dates including the Latitude Festival.

1. Confetti Death This starts with an insistent cello-like tone undulating in intensity that provides the key reference point for the track, other layers join then finally a distant voice appears, treated into an otherworldly, ghostly instrument. The overall effect is haunting and powerful, pulling the listener into a strange world.

2. Serotonin My favourite song on the EP, Bug Teeth garnishes the electronics with a guitar loop; this one glistens in the sunshine before it is joined by some persuasive percussion beats that take it to another level. Again the voice tantalises with parts of lines and words revealed, then disappearing into the ether.

3. Raspberry The synthesisers have an analogue eighties sound here with waves of sound washing invitingly over the listener before the inquiring, plaintive voice arrives. Like the other tracks there is a feeling of timeless and limitless space.

4. Forests on the Way There
A short guitar-driven intro with a small jump in the loop to unsettle the sound, before other themes and lines interweave. While the strings are relatively untreated the vocal is echoing and weaving through the dark trees in this evocatively named track.

5. Moth (Jasmine’s Song
) A pulsing synthesiser with slowly descending electric piano is the musical core of the finale. Bug Teeth does not compromise the sound and ideas, breaking conventions of song structure and vocal presentation every time to create something magical, involving and enduring….

https://www.facebook.com/insectcavities/

Ember Rev : From The Country To The City To The Sea, LP released 20 September 2019

A new album from Cambridge art/folk rockers Ember Rev, a complex mixture of acoustic mystery and thoughtful intensity. It is said there are only seven basic plots for any story, this presumably applies to concept albums too; here it is the ‘quest’ and the ‘voyage and return’ that give an arc to this set of songs and instrumentals.

‘Like Dreamers’ places the story in possibly an imaginary context, a floating ethereal landscape where the cymbals roll in and out and the accordion becomes a haunting meander. ‘From The Country ‘ describes the optimistic and youthful narrators setting off on an odyssey across the countryside into Cambridge ‘….and with our hip flask full and boots tied tight we set off to search for gold….’. The groove of this track stays restless and Dan Ecclestone’s vocals immediately pull you into the action.

‘To The City’ jumps ahead to a surreal interlude of a parade of lanterns in the capital, a metaphor for moving on. The most uptempo track here, it has a satisfyingly loose structure with a neat hookline and guitar figure, eventually dissolving into an extended workout with guest clarinet making a welcome contribution.

Two instrumentals follow, the first a short scene-setter with extra tuned percussion cameos then ‘Walk/Don’t Walk’ is a more ambitious piece, with terrific drumming driving a late seventies Brand X influenced piece of jazz fusion. ‘And So To The Sea’ hints at a tragedy to come on the final stage of the journey/quest ‘…..but I waited, I waited there at the water’s edge you never returned….’. The acoustic guitar gleams with melancholy and dominates the song. ‘Be Still’ is a wordless meditation where the mournful voice becomes a darker instrument to counterpoint the light of the accordion.

‘Ultramarine’ is a multi-sectioned piece with surreal musings on life and death with the inevitable draw of the sea for the central character ‘…let’s swim with the fishes tonight..and dance to their ebb and their flow…had you asked me jump I’d have jumped; and the waves would’ve welcomed me under…’. Instrumentally there is lots going on here – all of the band making an excellent contribution to this affecting mini-movie.

As Dan performs the Peter Gabriel-esque final track ‘Like Dolphins’ he leaves the listener in no doubt that the allusions in earlier songs reference a tragedy ‘….for though we slowly came of age you remained…and of your bones are coral made…’; one that lingers with those involved, as does this very personal and thought-provoking album.

https://www.facebook.com/EmberRev/