London four-piece Bleach Lab inhabit a world of beautiful dreampop where the instruments and voice meld together and seem to slow down the passing of time. From earlier this year, ‘Burnt Orange’ featured intricate guitar work, changes of pace and a killer chorus. ‘Sleep’ was even more laid back, had the inviting opening line ‘…it was late and my head hurt….’ and a tour de force lead vocal.
Now new single release ‘Never Be’ is a thoughtful meditation on break-up and the uncertainty of moving on. Like the hinterland between sleeping and becoming aware, the track unusually fades into being, establishing a leisurely pace and production lustre that sustains throughout.
Again, vocalist Jenna Kyle makes every word count as the guitar gently soars and bends notes, creating an impression of being becalmed on a lake as the current nearly stops. In the end it does, not quite resolved musically and emotionally – which is part of the magic of this track.
Combining a pure folk voice with the lustre of electronic layers and a pulsing rhythm underlay, composer and singer/instrumentalist Jackie Beverly released ‘Sweet Goodbye’ earlier this year. This continued to build her reputation on the Irish music scene after the soulful tones of 2019’s ‘Someone Else’ (showcased to perfection on a live YouTube version).
Starting with acoustic guitar and vocal, new single ‘Sea Glass’ is a creative weaving together of timeless imagery ‘……. separate the sea glass from the sand….but the waves are strong….’, elegiac reflection (including a poignant sample of Marilyn Monroe ‘….I could easily be alone it doesn’t bother me to be alone….’) and attractive instrumentation. This includes the richness of a cello, echoing acoustic piano and some unhurried and sensitive percussion.
The video carries on the sense of melancholy but tempered with macabre fun as Jackie’s band and friends appear as ghost-sheeted figures in the background. They gradually multiply and take over until they are chasing Jackie down the road in Dublin’s Portobello as the repeated line ‘…..no-one ever told me that the days and nights would feel the same….’ brings this attractive but thoughtful track to an end.
There are two versions of this song from CARRON. The original track released last month is a mellow and soothing electropop track full of rippling arpeggios weaved through ethereal vocals from multi-instrumentalist sisters Méabh & Mella Carron. The keyboards have a significant but not dominant presence, especially when dancing around the bass pedalled notes during the chorus and the key lines ‘…..if I borrowed a life would I question myself….would it change what I felt…’ . There is even a bit of gentle synth soloing before the multi-layer harmonies bring the song to a close.
Now CARRON have re-interpreted their own song for a ‘Live in Lockdown’ alternative. Beginning with a repeated figure like autumnal birdsong the unadorned folk-based combination of violin and piano carries the backing with the subtlest of electric guitar enhancement. The sisters draw true beauty from the melody when singing solo, in unison or with harmonies.
The stripped-back and slowed down mix emphasises the wintery cadences of the arrangement, performed in a candlelit setting it is a gorgeous combination of voices and music.
This may be the perfect antidote to the maelstrom of uncertainty and contradiction of current everything; London four-piece Tugboat Captain have fashioned a complex and upbeat compendium of rewarding sounds.
Like many of the tracks opener ‘Check Ur Health’ draws on a range of sixties sources with a touch of prog-folk detachment in the lyrical delivery and the unpredictable instrumentation. There are later Beatles influences too, emphasised by the band’s insistence that the disc was recorded secretly at Abbey Road when there was spare time available.
The prescient ‘No Plans (For This Year)’ was finished a while ago, bringing in brass and strings to add emphasis to the vocal lines, driven by a neat piano break. ‘C’mon! Haribo?’ is frenetic fun while ‘Downward Slope’ is a punchy minute and a half. ‘Come Dig Me Out’ lopes along with extra acoustic guitar flourishes before diverting into many different sections and a steadily building entourage of extra instruments and voices (the LP credits 35+ players, singers and helpers…).
And there is much much more to hear as the later tracks open up the studio opportunities with brass, strings, woodwind and ever-changing musical dynamics.
It is an album of depth and colour, every track immaculately constructed but still retaining an underlying anarchy and looseness that create welcome undulations in the polished veneer.
This debut long-player is summed up by Tugboat Captain themselves, ‘….the band have now pushed on, beyond being solely a DIY indie-pop band, leaving lo-fi behind in search of transcendence through pure pop…..’
‘Versailles’ is the latest in a string of quality singles from London trio Gold Baby, each one a self-contained epic of careful musical crafting and inventive lyrics. Highlights have included ‘500/1’, a wistful time-spanning reflection where the delicate backing builds into a dense unforgiving repeated conclusion ‘…..bad dream, bad dream, this is just a bad dream…’. ‘Philadelphia’ has a restrained road movie pace, full of atmospheric words and including a catchy chorus featuring a name check for Jesús Vidaña (found adrift in 2006 having survived lost at sea for nine months).
‘Dogbone’ is an angry but honest dismissal at the end of a relationship acknowledging that ‘…..not the draw or the cut or the bruise in my gut….you’re no-one….’ over a constantly varying and dysfunctional guitar riff. As on all of these songs singer/songwriter Siân Alex twists the words and emotions inside out, pulling the listener into a vortex of imagery and juxtaposition, used to great effect in most recent track ‘Japanese Racehorse’. Here the music and words embrace each other in subtle low key verses and a stately anthemic chorus. If read as a poem it works very well, the music raises it to another level.
Now new track ‘Versailles’ is a pensive and mellow piece, with a part-acoustic backing competing to be quieter than the voice. The lyric of disconnection and regret is painfully drawn ‘……there’s barbed wire between us whenever we speak….we used to talk the stars out of the sky….and now I’m nervous about a few hours passing by….’ to contrast yet complement the sheer beauty of the music where the dreamy guitars drift in and out, surprisingly bursting into an almost solo near the end. I enjoy the lyrical games of ‘…..what are we but strangers now forcing conversation? what are we but strangers now forcing conservation of our little Versailles?….’ and overall the song lures, beguiles and completely wins you over.
Hopefully a full EP will be released in early 2021…
The fourth album from alt-country duo Ward Thomas sees them infusing their sound with contemporary pop to great effect. Opener ‘Sweet Time’ is as uplifting a track as you could hear; especially with the accompanying video of the sisters and friends cycling on a summer day and when they are singing ‘……sipping on champagne stars and slowing down the speed of light…’ all is indeed well with the world.
‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ and ‘Open Your Mind’ keep the pace up but the waltzing ‘Someday’ stops the show. It is a torch song fully using the gorgeous harmonies that roll up to a summit before fading away then reaching the big string-backed chorus ‘….don’t say you love me yet…darling I’m still too scared…’. Gorgeous.
‘Meant To Be Me’ and ‘Hold Space’ are reflections of aspects of current chart pop with acapella interlude ‘Dear Me’ showcasing the voices again. ‘Wait Up’ recalls aspects of their earlier albums sound while full-on Bond theme ‘My Favourite Poison’ is a sweeping strings soundscape.
The last two tracks are quiet and thoughtful with the sisters delicate and gentle harmonies in the forefront of the mainly acoustic backings.
There is more – three bonus cover versions, starting with ‘Halfway’, a rousing duet with James Blunt and a song reminiscent of Ward Thomas crowd pleasers at their live shows. ‘Human’ with Jack Savoretti is a countrified live rendition of The Killers’ song with an angelic vocal arrangement and the finale of Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’ is as good as a cover of a classic song should be.
Originally from Australia and now based in Berlin (via South Korea), Eilis Frawley uses drums and electronics on this new EP as soundboards for her spoken words. With experience of playing in many bands and interweaving loops and effects with her own virtuoso performances she has created a unique fusing of musical ideas and challenging lyrics.
‘Human’ starts with a distant chiming keyboard motif and pensive thoughts, ‘….how do you know if you have reached your potential….potential is best kept as exactly that….something on the horizon but is never reached…’ alternating with a pulsing driving fuzzed beat. Eventually the two themes clash and bond.
The lusher tones of ‘Gone’ soon explode into a percussion workout; it sounds like you are listening to two accidently overlaid tracks trying to escape each other. As on all of the EP, there is something about the clear vocal delivery that makes you hang on for the next line; these pieces are overflowing with ideas.
‘Darkest Truth ‘ is a very harrowing recollection over an unrelenting industrial backing, while ‘Broken Ankles’ is a hard hitting ecological lament. ‘Louise’ is a sad tale but lightened by a delicate touch modern jazz accompaniment.
The martial drumming introduction of ‘Stats’ heralds a litany of depressing numerical facts, delivered with angry resignation. Pre-released, this is a pivotal track on the collection.
As the mainly instrumental ‘End’ plays out, you realise how good this fiery drumming, atmospheric keys and addictive words would sound in a live performance, but while we long for those distant times this EP is an excellent listen.
I last saw Leeds trio Nervous Twitch at the Cambridge Indie Pop Alldayer in 2018, they were definitely one of the big highlights of the day, performing many of their ‘…..short songs played quickly….’ Now they are soon to release their fourth album, the first since ‘I Won’t Hide’ in 2017.
The A-side of this new single is ‘Keeping Faith In Something’, built around a retro bass keyboard riff, sparsely jangling surfy guitar and powerhouse drums. Erin’s vocals are simultaneously deadpan and sort of joyous with dark advice hiding in the lyrics, ‘…..following your heart doesn’t get you anywhere…..outta food, outta work, outta life, outta choice…..of how to live as another number…..’, finally deciding that ‘….playing it safe doesn’t get you any further….’. It is three minutes of powerpop that makes you dance and think.
The B-side is a change of pace, slowing down to let the uncluttered guitars carry the rhythm along with some unpredictable chord changes. Meanwhile the echoing vocal meditates on boredom and hope ‘….and I feel I need another heartbreak…. just for the spark of inspiration…..’ and then perhaps sums up some of the negatives of 2020 so far with the title line ‘…and all we need is something to look forward to…..’
A new single from Leeds duo Keep Back Ivy, a follow-up to ‘Read All About It’ released in July. Lyrically that was a critique of the place of media in modern society, reflecting unease through evocative imagery along with sparse and unpredictable guitar.
The new track ‘Make It Right’ is another musical low-fi filmic soundtrack, this time starting the song with moody guitar notes and this dark introduction ‘……you get together in your friendship groups….and talk about all you hate...’
Then the song changes direction and the rhythmic chords lighten the ambience despite the serious messages in the words. Above all it is a plea for understanding of gender diversity and acceptance instead of exclusion, with the atmosphere echoing some of the tone of the previous single.
Trying to resolve the different viewpoints, ‘…we all just want to make it right….but you’re not my sister if you’re telling me what to think or do….you’re not my friend if you’re telling me who else can be my friend….’ leads to a pure, clear and impassioned vocal performance, as the bottleneck electric guitar gently soars and serenades the listener (showcased nicely on the accompanying video).
As if there are three songs in one, this is a complex, rewarding and thoughtful single…
With this new version of a track from earlier in the year, Cambridge-based singer/songwriter Ffion Rebecca has added another atmospheric and smooth recording to her catalogue for 2020, showing her range and ability to embrace different musical styles.
‘Shoulda Known’ was a duet with Leicester collaborator Tayo B and their contrasting vocal contributions created a contemporary pop single with some big electronic swathes and a pace that eased along with relaxed confidence. ‘Love Again’ was a late-night ballad, accompanied by a jazz guitar to complement the emotive voice.
The original ‘Silk’ featured piano and saxophone to great effect. Now on the soulful remix the voice has been blended into the mix to give an even richer timbre to the sensual lyrics. The saxophone is more prominent and a sparse uncluttered beat pushes the track along. The catchiness of the chorus is the great strength; ever present it shows Ffion’s ability to effortlessly deliver the sense of the song. Spellbinding.