Lizard Brain : Stray, LP released 18th January 2019

The third album from Cambridge band Lizard Brain is a refreshing cornucopia of a dozen tracks where each one is completely different in style and substance; lovingly crafted in their studio by the perfectionist quartet.

Opening with an electronic sequencer pattern ‘Lost In Sound’ is a poppy song drenched in effects and frequently returning to the hookline of the title, referencing Bowie’s Space Oddity along the way. ‘Gannets’ is a guitar driven rocker with a neat descending chord sequence. Then to surprise the listener we have the loping reggae of ‘Am I Just A Name Now?’, with a lyric of resignation regarding the digital world ‘…I’ve got more friends now…than I’m ever gonna need…’.

‘My Thing And Your Thing’ is a cryptic folk-rock prog piece, needing extra listens to untangle it. ‘Red Dress’ is a standout. As deep industrial electronic slabs of sound drift in and out the surreal words are darkly comic. It is an excellent song; a hybrid of Robyn Hitchcock meeting mid-period Depeche Mode.

‘Nothing To Say’ rocks along solidly then a tight 80s jazz-funk feeling pervades the next two tracks; ‘Should I Tell You?’ is a catchy pop single then ‘Never Felt So Good’ is nearly seven minutes of laid back goodness featuring flute, saxophone, bar chimes, synthesiser, languid vocals and some of the instrumental unpredictability of later Steely Dan.

My current favourite is the unexpected blast of Northern Soul of ‘Back To You’, a perfectly formed confection of upbeat lyric, blaring horn and Hammond organ sounds, pounding drums and bass and the biggest hookline chorus on the album. Brilliant!

‘Are Your Hands Any Warmer Yet My Dear?’ is a medieval psychedelic waltz with beautifully played classical guitar, recorders, crickets and a gothically sinister lyric about a strange relationship featuring imagery such as ‘….I buy a guitar cut out from cardboard…see I drew on some strings…’. This is a track to treasure; unusual and satisfying.

Finally we hear the insistent pulsing patterns of ‘Freedom (Summertime)’, a gradually building anthem of escape and optimism. As the album reaches the end you realise that you have never heard anything quite like this celebratory and stylistic collection of excellent songs.

https://www.facebook.com/LizardBrainBand/

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Hydra Lerna, EP released December 2018

A new self-produced EP from Norwich based singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Hydra Lerna, building musical textures around her harp-playing and electronic treatments.

1. Reckless A distant tone introduces a recurring loop figure on the harp, other sounds drift in and out but the gorgeous vocal really lifts the song; understated but intense ‘…it’s clear that I know what I want and it’s becoming an addiction, you’re becoming my addiction….‘ The soaring chorus melody carries all before it and electronic percussion patterns and bass pedals help to build up the drama. This a stunning start to the EP.

2. Angel v. Psycho This is a bit more sparse and spiky with a processed voice, creating a darker atmosphere and never quite revealing where it is going.

3. Distraction This short analogue-toned electronic interlude floats dreamily in some alternative space, gradually adding the layers and the repeated title to enhance the mystery.

4. Hydra – Remix Back to a more conventional song structure here for this description of a relationship intertwined with a lyrical identification with the ‘Hydra of Lerna’ of Greek and Roman mythology. The staccato musical core of the track flows into a busy percussive chorus ‘…you’ve got power but I’ve got poison, I can take you down…’.

5. Birdcage – Remastered A waterfall of lovely harp triplets roll through the start and are never far away in this anthemic piece. A lyric of escape gives way to an instrumental coda; this is another track that shows the creativity, imagination and potential of this talented performer.

https://hydralerna.com/

12 Highlights From 2018 : A Sampler Of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums and Cambridge shows of 2018…

1. Wave Pictures: Sugar
Two albums this year and this uptempo loveable confection has already established itself into the trio’s live set.

2. Public Service Broadcasting: ROYGBIV
Stunning visuals made the live version of this lesser known track unforgettable.

3. Fightmilk: Your Girlfriend
Excellent new album but this stealthy masterpiece is in a class of its own.

4. Colour Me Wednesday: Sunriser
Album and live set opener, a summary of all the features that make this band something special.

5. Suggested Friends: Please Don’t Look At Me On The Bus
Short burst of DIY angst, delivers its message as the hookline haunts your brain.

6. Gaffa Tape Sandy: Water Bottle
High-energy set opener from explosive power trio.

7. Teleman: Cactus
One of many highlights of the new ‘Family Of Aliens’ LP, a stupendous and unrelenting electronic riff marches into the consciousness, with even more energy in the concert version.

8. Ember Rev: Bring It Right Down
Thoughtful and message filled accordion-based rock, works well on stage too.

9. The Sunbathers: Girl You Left Behind
Gentle seaside themed concept album includes this indie-folk waltzing gem.

10. Elma: September
A reminder of a celebratory album launch at the Portland for a fine collection of retro 60s delights. Special mention too for heart breaking ballad ‘Late To The Party’.

11. The Smittens: Upper West Side
Many vocalists and moods in a brilliant show at the Blue Moon from USA Indie collective.

12. Robyn Hitchcock: I Used To Love You
Cambridge references in this song from probably the best gig of my year, a church venue the perfect setting for the intimate performance of songs from a glorious back catalogue of timeless psychedelic imagery.

Diving Station : Feather Mouth, EP released December 2018

A new EP from Manchester four-piece Diving Station, an engrossing collection of acoustic and electric soundscapes.

1. You’re Not Listening As a guitar sound arrives from a distance singer Anna McLuckie immediately pins down the sense of the track with her jazzy vocal stylings. The distinctive harp appears after a minute or so, adding an unearthly texture to the constantly changing instrumentation. The other band members drift in and out with vocal and musical contributions to a song that never follows a predictable path.

2. Taking Tongues A beautiful combination of harp and acoustic guitar sets this gorgeous track on its way. Deceptively sailing along on a smooth tide of restrained acoustic folk the rest of the band suddenly crash in with an electric guitar and percussion outburst; even the harp gets aggressive. The calm after the storm is a glorious vocal coda.

3. When I Arrived It Was Raining With a title like the opening line of an inviting novel, this is another track to lose yourself in its many sections and moods. A lyrical evocation of homecoming and longing is at times accompanied by a sparse but always carefully judged instrumentation; impressively towards the end the harp and guitar harmonics create the sound of raindrops…

4. Tour Guide A dream-like and anthemic end to the EP, driven by a sustained and emotional vocal as the band create layers of sound patterns underneath, gradually leading to a gentle play-out as the finale to this fine collection of songs.

https://www.facebook.com/divingstationmusic/

Flaming June : The Firework Maker’s Daughter, EP released December 2018

The long-awaited new EP from acoustic indie-folk band Flaming June; driven by the compositions of singer/guitarist Louise Eatock. In the spirit of traditional folk themes of protest and comment these four excellent songs champion ‘…female spirits that break the mould…’

1. Firework Maker’s Daughter A mid-tempo rousing track, with the violin interweaving its magic through the acoustic guitar and restrained percussion. Based on a short story by Philip Pullman, Louise delivers an adventurous lyric that on the surface describes the title character aspiring to follow an unconventional career path but spreads into broader imagery of justice and ambition.

2. Oblivion Instantly conjuring up images from Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ and edgier parts of historic novels this brisk music takes the listener into the midst of communities where the downtrodden escape from a difficult real life in the 19th Century. Short instrumental punctuations, an excellent double-tracked vocal, the dense texture of the violin again and especially a chorus of ‘…laudanum lovers love like no other…but they can’t remember how it feels…’ lift the three minutes into something special.

3. Drunken Assassin A lighter and more upbeat atmosphere musically but the words move into dark territory of introspection on loneliness and addiction within a relationship. The lyric pulls no punches ‘…if only you weren’t drinking yourself half to death we could live happily ever after…’

4. Women’s Battalion The pivotal track on the EP, a commemoration of the centenary of the 1918 general election, the first election following the enfranchisement of middle-class women over the age of 30. It was also the first time that working class men, although not working class women, were allowed to vote, so the song includes the continuation of the struggle for equality, extending it as far as the present day. The relentless marching pace of the song and spirited vocal performance push all before it, with fine contributions from cajón and violin.

https://www.facebook.com/flamingjuneuk

The Scissors : Look Good In Cheap Clothes, LP released December 2018

This excellent third full-length LP from Cambridge four-piece The Scissors pushes their sound into new territory musically and features words and ideas that chime with modern day concerns…

1. Plug Me In Kicking off with a chord from the soundtrack of a western, the sinister guitar of the verses is balanced by the organ-drenched chorus and it all ends very abruptly.

2. Parking Cars More of a rocker, driven by a pulsing bass riff. Not sure how the title line fits in but it is certainly catchy ‘…parking cars…you got to do it right…’

3. Death Engineer A moody song about built-in obsolescence, suggesting that it is the responsibility of the title character. Around this lyrical resignation a Doors-sounding electric piano and rolling cymbals ominously threaten.

4. Look Good In Cheap Clothes A surreal monologue, spoken by frontman Stewart Harris as the band play freely with the structures and sonic textures. This is a companion to the disturbing artwork of the album front cover (which itself brings to mind the notorious Beatles ‘Yesterday And Today’ sleeve?)

5. I Dream In X-Ray Vision In case you thought the Scissors of old had disappeared this impressive track is a pounding reminder of their trademark sound, with unrelenting unified riff, dissonant guitar and even the theremin gets a look-in. The lyric of course has enough ambiguity and imagery to satisfy the diehard fan.

6. Edgelands Picking up the ‘edge of the world’ theme from the end of the previous song, this loose psychedelic americana is echoing and atmospheric, driven by a roving guitar and accordion.

7. When Is A Boy Not A Boy? A cinematic, sweeping track; a guitar solos plaintively over exciting drumming weaving in with a strong vocal performance.

8. Ufotopia This mid-tempo song is the longest on the album and features a subtly uplifting band sound with the questioning and resigned reflections from the narrator. A guest saxophone solo steals the show at the end.

BONUS TRACKS
9. Glossy Magazines (EP ‘b’-side) This noisy staple of their live set is given a more introspective feel here, piling on the paranoia as the music moves in all sorts of unpredictable directions.

10. Electric Line Terminus (EP ‘b’-side) Another previous release and storming live track, this again has a Doors feel, a sort of doom-laden cataclysm of blues-based garage rock.

Luke James Williams : Drove, EP released November 2018

A new EP from Cambridge singer/songwriter/guitarist Luke James Williams.

1. From The Drove A short, multi-textured introduction to the EP, an array of acoustic instruments resolve into a welcoming chord.

2. Snares & Traps This is an intense, poignant ballad of relationship ending, delivered with characteristic emotion and commitment over a sparse, steadily repeating guitar figure. There is a neat waltz time middle eight as lyrical resignation takes over ‘…what have I got to show for it but a box of my broken pride…’

3. Speak To Me A mid-tempo uplifting celebration of affection; catchy chorus too, with a double tracked vocal. Ambiguous imagery pervades the lyric to reflect the positive feelings ‘… I want to hear the rush of life through every melody.. from your thoughts in the hills out through your mouth to me…’

4. Rabbit Hole The previously released single from the EP, this track has more of a band instrumentation. It features an impassioned vocal with a lyric of pleading and desperation always leading to the key line ‘…No I can’t watch you fall down that rabbit hole again and again and again….’

5. Still In Bed Beginning with the haunting lines ‘… I lay trapped in amber.. and you say that I don’t care…’ this very impressive song is the finale to his current live set. Sung with passion it is a standout track; a simple but stunningly effective ascending and descending guitar line is the only accompaniment to the emotionally raw lyric, coupled with a very attractive melody. Towards the end of the song suddenly a distant echoing piano drifts in and then subtly plays along.

6.You Are The Captain A slowed down folk ballad, this wistful, dreamlike piece uses timeless imagery of the sea as the narrator drifts away on the tide. Over the strummed chords and marching drumbeat the resignation and yearning is poetically described ‘…You are the bloodline, I am just bleeding…..all that I wanted was to be there… ‘

This debut EP is an excellent introduction to his music, as evocatively described on his website….‘Light and dark, ugly and beautiful, happy and sad, fearful and brave, the music of singer songwriter Luke James Williams reflects the opposing forces and wonderful chaos of the world around us’

http://www.lukejameswilliams.co.uk/#about