This is a very impressive debut from Bristol contemporary folk band Faeland, an acoustic collective led by songwriting duo Rebecca Nelson and Jacob Morrison.
Opener ‘Too Much’ starts quietly before a distinctly celtic instrumentation broods mysteriously underneath Rebecca’s vocal stylings, her voice being one of the huge strengths of this disc. Released as a single, ‘We’re Just A Love Song’ is a sprightly but sad tale about the destiny of a relationship, ‘Prayer Song’ is layered vocals and atmosphere with a clarinet adding to the texture.
A shimmering harp sound on ‘All My Swim’ makes this transformative track even better, as the narrator becomes one with the flowing river. ‘Chantress’ is a more traditional folk sound, with accordion joining in too. And there is much much more, including my personal favourites ‘Strings’, with beautiful voice and elegant acoustic guitar figures and the sparse strumming and lyrical nostalgia of ‘To The Green – Live’.
Highly recommended, fifty minutes of gentle, carefully-crafted quality sounds. It is an album to escape into and become part of; somehow it seems removed from the normal time stream….
Cluny 2 is an intimate and characterful venue converted from a theatre which was formerly a Victorian flax mill. Tonight it hosted three contrasting but complementary bands. Openers Swine Tax were playing on their home turf; they describe themselves as 90s inspired indie-rock chaos which seems an accurate description. Showcasing a mostly new and unrecorded set, they pushed the standard three piece instrument line-up in all sorts of directions, with singer/guitarist Vince Lisle fronting the songs with an energetic stage presence. They made a good noise, with recent single ‘Feels Like’ as a standout track.
Leeds quartet Milk Crimes are full of DIY-pop melancholy and desperation, set to a great wall of double guitar, punky bass and relentless drums underpinning plaintive vocals. In punk rock tradition it seemed a very short set, with riches including the opening salvo of ‘Hanging Out’ and ‘Deadtown’ and the frenetic bursts and quiet interludes in ‘Hail Seitan’. Hopefully they will have some new recorded material out soon.
Shopping have the simplest of sounds but it works brilliantly, live and on record. With many tracks from their newly released album ‘The Official Body’ (produced by indie legend Edwyn Collins!) their set was a spiky sounding masterclass in concise, message-carrying danceable pop. Their eternal triangle of staccato drums, single-line clear guitar figures and one of the sharpest bass sounds you will hear anywhere are topped off with call and response vocal interjections, often single words or phrases that say it all. ‘Why Wait’, ‘Discover’ (with a squelching synth bass line) and the changing tempo of ‘Control Yourself’ showed the band on top form with the audience under the spell. The final track was ‘Suddenly Gone’ and then they were…
Refreshingly new and making an impact on the Cambridge scene, Carolyn’s Fingers (named after a song by the Cocteau Twins) are bringing their original music to life in live performance and now on this sparkling first single release.
‘Her Howl’ is a hypnotic, ethereal journey of the mind, painting an intense, personal picture through words and music of the nature of depression and dark thoughts. The four minutes include so many sections falling into each other; it is as if there are several songs overlapping and one of the great strengths of the piece – there is no room for complacency or background listening here. The audience is drawn in to become part of the band’s private meditation.
Sparse keyboard and subtly programmed percussive glitches weave their way between echoing electric guitar and minimalist bass foundations as the multi-voice layers finally resolve into an a cappella style chorus which disturbingly drifts away taking you with it.
Play their other intricate tracks on SoundCloud, watch their YouTube channel and better still, catch them in live action at the Portland Arms in Cambridge on 18th April…
Laura Mardon describes herself as a ‘softly spoken Australian folk-punk songwriter’, so the titles of London boroughs on this EP may at first be disorientating; but she was born and raised in Kentish Town before she eventually embraced a new life on the Gold Coast. Her earlier experiences form the lyrical backbone of these very personal confessional songs, underpinned by sensitive acoustic guitar work.
‘Borough’ features minimalist accompaniment and a lyrical reminiscence that stops and starts the musical backing. Never has ‘…took a bus towards Deptford…’ sounded like such an inviting proposition as on the next track but the bleak words ultimately reveal an empty experience. She then slows down to the waltz of ‘Camberwell’, with a bitter and ambiguous lyric giving an extra emotional weight.
Worthy of a novel opening line ‘Brighton’ begins with ‘… I stole a bible from my hotel room when I ran away from London…’ then the disillusioned narrator escapes the traumas of New Cross to seek a possible destiny at the ocean side. Laura says “Living on the Gold Coast is like living in a permanent holiday vortex”, and the final track Gold Coast is much more optimistic, with positively upbeat guitar picking and a sparkling inflection in the voice.
An EP of spiritual and physical odyssey; it gains in depth with every repeated listen.
The sport of boxing is featured in many songs, from the reflective ‘Boxers’ by Morrissey, the cryptic Simon and Garfunkel ‘The Boxer’ and the injustices of ‘Hurricane’, one of my very favourite Bob Dylan tracks. The aspirational metaphors and phrases around the sport provide the lyrical substance of ‘In Your Corner’; a new charity single by The Weebles, a collective of Cambridge musicians co-ordinated by singer/songwriter Gavin Chappell-Bates.
Gavin has written this fund-raising single with and for Iain MacIntosh who was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2008 and is overcoming constant adversity to live an independent life. Although Gavin has used his own vocal talents on similar upbeat songs in his own work, the lead is taken here by Freddie Hall, a respected interpreter of soul and blues classics and a frequent performer around the Cambridge area. He certainly rises to the occasion and adds some heft to this uplifting Motown-style stomp.
It is all here; a drum beat opening, funky guitar (especially the solo from Neil Bruce), sparkling bass from Charlie Howell, punctuated with plenty of saxophone and brass punching throughout the song. All of the sporting/fighting back/determination references are included in this concise lyric and there is a neat middle-eight too.
Characters from the ‘Rocky’ movies are listed at the end but the key message of ‘…you’re always in my corner…you always pick me up again…’ emphasises the supportive nature of this musical enterprise and worthy cause.
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Psychic Lemon continue to challenge the senses with this new long-player; their sound has moved on substantially from their first album which now seems almost light and song-based in comparison.
It is an accurate recording of their live sound; as when I saw them perform this album at the Portland in Cambridge last year, comfortably holding their own against headliners Scandanavian psych behemoths Flowers Must Die. In December they were enthralling a freezing crowd once again at Cambridge’s Mill Road Winter Fair, and now here at last is the new album release.
‘Exit To The Death Lane’ begins with moody ritual drums then the layers of guitar and bass creep stealthily in, including some incomprehensible vocal chants. A jarring guitar solo ensures the vibe does not become complacent and at eight and a half minutes there is time for the groove to be fully explored.
The establishment of the rhythmic shape of ‘Hey Droog!’ (the slang term for friend in cult novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’) is pile-driving drum and riff, a distant choir fills in the texture and the effect-laden guitar does the rest before ending the piece in a solo riot of feedback.
‘You’re No Good’ is definitely not the early sixties hit for the Swinging Blue Jeans, but it does have a more sprightly pop touch than what has come before, also with the bonus of a manic saxophone and a bit of singing at the end; this is the nearest they get to their debut album sound. The last two tracks are nine minutes plus; the band have been opening their live sets recently with the paradoxically named ‘Interstellar Fuzz Star’, the fuzz of this celestial object being the guitar effect inextricably pulling the listener towards its gravitational centre. Some impressive bass playing on this track too.
The final track is ‘Satori Disko’, a reference to a state of spiritual awakening, in this case waking to the sound of a hypnotic undulating drum pattern, rock solid bass and a guitarist ripping up the effects pedals and reassembling them randomly.
Overall, listening to this is a unique sensory experience, a combination of you feeling like you are weaving amongst the buildings in a flying car as part of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or being plugged into the endless pulse of primal signals emitted by distant galactic objects…
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On a damp December evening, the welcome prospect of three acts making waves in their own not easy to classify genres.
The show started with the ethereal dreampop soundscapes of upcoming Cambridge trio Carolyn’s Fingers. Named after a song by the Cocteau Twins they weave their music from a simple combination of bass, keyboard and an echoing guitar that sounds like it is appearing over a distant horizon. Add hypnotic vocal cadences, unpredictable taped percussion clicks and bursts and you have their signature track ‘Glemora’. Their lyrics address some difficult issues such as the mental state of residents in a detention centre in the minimalist ‘Vapour’. A new single was being filmed during the set for video release and I think we will be hearing much more of their haunting sound.
I last saw Xavier Watkins fronting psychedelic revivalists Violet Woods a couple of years back, here he was back at the Portland with his new project Twenty-Three Hanging Trees; one man and his analogue modular synthesiser. He builds up electronic textures in extended pieces, requiring concentration from the audience to absorb the ever-changing sonic layers. With blurred back projections of images in reds and greens and the visual necessity of plugging in and removing wire connections it was all strangely involving.
Norwich band Wooden Arms describe themselves as a ‘genre-fluid contemporary quintet’ and with the addition of a new bassist they are creating a thoughtful acoustic-based ensemble sound, playing tracks from their new album ‘Trick Of The Light’. Seated at his electric piano singer Alex Carson is the creative drive behind the band, drawing on difficult personal experiences for many of the lyrics. Co-writer and lead vocals (and trumpet) on some songs Jeff Smith has a similar but subtly different voice. All of the band contribute backing vocals, adding an extra dimension to the infinite variations of instrumental light and shade.
The tempo of songs is sedate but there are so many intriguing touches; the sprightly birdsong violin on ‘Brevity’, the John Barry string motif on the smooth roll of ‘Cole Porter’ and the way the plaintive piano figures seem to underpin the direction of the songs. From the novel by Patrick Hamilton, ‘Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’ is a great title and the song seems to lose itself in an evocative journey too. The final two tracks, the older ‘December’ and newer ‘Burial’ (released as a single) are fine summations of the band’s work, ending the show on an emotional crescendo.