Benz : Erazor, EP released February 2019

A new EP from Benz, the performing name of Swedish composer and singer Ebba Salomonsson. Moving easily between dense, layered instrumentation and a sparser sound these three tracks represent some of the diversity and range of her ideas.

1. Swing My Soul A distant undulating keyboard, echoing drum beat and the song begins with the cryptic lyric ‘….I guess the light blew up in my face…..I couldn’t turn away…’. The loose tempo and beguiling vocal is a heady concoction, before we reach the big title hookline. A languid trumpet sound interweaves with an avalanche of guitar noise for the climatic last third of the song, as the words turn to regret ‘…we used to live like moments would come back….now I got no more to give…’

2. Erazor The deceptively loud introduction gives way to a lighter than air vocal on a joyous pop song with a tune that sounds so perfect and natural you wonder why nobody has thought of it before.
There is some tension in the lyrical sentiment though; the doubts of ‘….I fear your heart is going numb…..love me until your heart breaks…love me until it don’t…’ soon give way to the frustrations of ‘…keep on falling apart, keep on heading the wall…’. The guitar keeps bursting back into the mix and the whole thing motors along like a War On Drugs A-side. This gem of a song is released simultaneously as a single.

3. The Smile The dissonant mellotron heralds a lush, sensuous soundscape of synthesisers and a smooth, rich voice over a stately pace set by an insistent but muted drum. Another classy melody and words revolving around the ‘smile’ of the title. ‘…keep her head in the breeze…in hope she’ll feel alive and see what’s left of me… oh, that smile she gave to me…’. The extended instrumental coda features the smoky trumpet sound again.

This is a lovingly-crafted set of songs, brought to life by top quality musicians. Excellent!

https://www.facebook.com/BBENZMUSIC

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BansheeVa : debut album, released February 2019

The debut long player from BansheeVa, one of Cambridge’s premier live psychedelic bands finally arrives. The album starts with the pacey fire of ‘F.O.Y.C’, a short burst of instrumental power built around staccato drums and a stop-start guitar figure. Clocking in at less than two minutes ‘Woman From Mars’ is more of a retro piece with full-on late 60s sound. It is ‘Space Invaders’ when the trio go into controlled power-drive with a full band propulsive riff and the welcome appearance of some indecipherable shouted vocals blended into the mix.

‘Janus’ is the god with two faces, looking into the future and back into the past and so represents a perfect manifesto for the psychedelic genre; on this track the core musical idea is a repeated single note but adorned with complex drums, a manic guitar solo and ultimately bludgeoning the listener into submission. In a good way.

Every Cambridge band that inhabits this musical territory is going to be aware of the ghost of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd and I have seen BansheeVa play ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ as a feature of their live set. I sense that the languid ‘Sleep When I’m Dead’ is a spot-on tribute to mid-period Floyd with its laid-back instrumental colours, distant vocal and loose but always interesting guitar touches.

The final fourteen minute track is a widescreen, cinematic epic – the solo guitar arpeggios introducing the piece are gradually blended with a stately bass then the thunderous laying down of solid metal chords builds an effective platform for some more otherworldly vocals. Over this first third we get a guitar solo and dive-bombing synchronised with the bass. The track does not let up; the doom-laden bassline sounds like a portent to Armageddon and a deceptively quiet section allows some contemplation before it all kicks off again.

This is a loud and louder unrestrained debut, well worth the wait.

https://www.facebook.com/BansheeVa

The Twilight Sad : It Won’t Be Like This All The Time, LP released January 2019

The fifth album from The Twilight Sad, prime exponents of big sweeping soundscapes and playing out of emotional traumas. Describing themselves as a ‘…Scottish band who enjoy making miserable music…’ they share some musical territory with the Cure, including support slots on their tours and a Robert Smith vocal cover on one of the Sad’s best songs ‘There’s A Girl In The Corner’.

Everything is in place on this new collection; illustrated perfectly in the first song (10 Good Reasons For Modern Drugs) from the opening line ‘…we’re hanging on by a thread and you keep bowing your head…’ to the big glorious sound when the full band kicks in. There are many cryptic titles along the way such as ‘Shooting Dennis Hopper Shooting’ with one of the heaviest introductions to a percussion driven piece. ‘The Arbor’ is dark and thoughtful, with a repeating guitar triplet figure and super deep bass. ‘VTr’ was a trail single for this album; an uptempo almost optimistic sounding song with one of the best vocal performances on this album.

‘Sunday Day13’ is a slower impassioned track ‘…will you always be mine?…please don’t ever change your mind…’, heart wrenching lines over mixed keyboard backing.
The echoing piano drifts away to herald another previous single ‘I’m Not Here (Missing Face)’, an epic, unrelenting pulsing rhythm, sustained guitar notes and a catchy but pessimistic hookline with various versions of ‘…I can’t stand to be around you any more….’. The sentiment continues in ‘Auge/Maschine’ ‘…I can’t believe you’re happy…’, a brilliant song powered by huge skysaw guitar. ‘Keep It All To Myself’ is a lighter, quick waltz and probably the most immediate song on the LP.

And there are three more excellent tracks too; it is a superb collection, an intense, demanding listen in one go but unearthing treasures and extra depth as you accept it into your consciousness.

http://thetwilightsad.com/

Pink Lemonade : Sugar N Spice, single released January 2019

A belting new single from Cambridge trio Pink Lemonade. On their previous outing the stratospheric ‘Space Girl’, they were out in the cosmos for two and a half minutes of power pop ‘….surfing the waves of the Milky Way…not your usual Friday, hey!…’, a burst of energy featuring a na na na na chorus, fuzzy guitar and as much outer space terminology as they could cram into the grooves. Follow that!

They have – although back to Earth lyrically the energy level has been maintained and probably increased. An insistent guitar line drives the song from the start, introducing a lyric of fitting in and alienation, a story being told over driving drums liberally adorned with cymbals, busy bass and a punchy lead vocal. The rest of the band join in on the vocals for a killer chorus which will lodge permanently in your brain.

The song structure is suddenly disrupted with a surreal spoken and shouted call and response middle eight before we return again to the security of ‘…sugar and spice and all things nice….’. The trio seem to have a gift for writing excellent choruses and as the track goes into overdrive it finally ends with the line ‘…love, love, love makes the world go round…’. Indeed it does, listen and enjoy!

https://www.facebook.com/PinkLemonadeMusicUK/

Wave Pictures, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 24 January 2019

A triumphant return to a sold out Portland Arms for the Wave Pictures.
The opening act Pony Collaboration first played with the headliners in 2007 so a reunion was long overdue. The six-piece perform heartfelt, emotionally self-deprecating songs, many from their new album ‘Everything Was Ages Ago’. Occupying similar musical territory to The Smittens from the USA and Cambridge’s own Model Village this ensemble make a great sound, driven by acoustic guitar, organ and virtuoso percussion.

The Wave Pictures
have such a massive back catalogue, every show is different in setlist and subtle variation of overall tone. Tonight opening with the loose polyrhythms of ‘Roosevelt Sykes’ there was a rockier sound in ‘House By The Beach’, ‘The Running Man’ and chart hit ‘Pea Green Coat’.
New songs ‘Hazey Moon’ and ‘Close Your Eyes Mike’ with its inviting imagery of ‘…alligators stirring in the soft white street…’ fit neatly into the set and Jonny Helm steps up from the drum kit to deliver an impassioned vocal on the slow ‘Sleepy Eye’ and ‘Now You Are Pregnant’, accompanied by the most delicate guitar and bass.

The triumvirate of ‘Pool Hall’, ‘Spaghetti’ and ‘Stay Here And Take Care Of The Chickens’, each with gradually increasing bass solo prominence from Franic Rozycki provides a peak near the end of the set. Through it all shines the majestic guitar intricacies of Dave Tattersall, effortlessly integrating solos, chords, riffs and impossible tricks into his playing. He is a versatile singer too and with some absurdist links between songs and a beguiling vocal performance on the mellow groove of ‘The Red Suitcase’, he bonds easily with the audience of believers and recent converts to this brilliant and much-loved band.

Rare rocker ‘Canvey Island Baby’ made a surprise appearance at the end, then the unrelenting drive of ‘The Woods’ was an excellent encore leaving us all wanting more but knowing we could wait until the next time they visit…

http://thewavepictures.com/
https://www.facebook.com/ThePonyCollaboration

Astralingua : Space Blues, single released January 2019

A new single from acoustic dreamy duo Astralingua, a forerunner of their new album to be released in March (see excellent cover artwork below). They use a broad canvas of strings, woodwind and gentle effects as a platform for the distant but compelling vocals.

Composer Joseph Thompson and vocalist Anne Thompson sing all the lines as two-part harmonies and make the whole piece into many strata of gorgeously textured ethereal musings. Beginning with awe and wonder at the cosmos ‘… staring through a polished glass…all the shining stars…wonder could I truly grasp….’ the narrator soon becomes overwhelmed at the prospect of the scale of things ‘…endlessly vast…aeons roll past…’ and as happened in the most famous celestial song of all (Bowie’s Space Oddity) it ends badly ‘…the silence roars…I want no more…of life behind these doors…’

We don’t know if there is a way back from oblivion for the astronaut but this beautiful song ends wistfully as the instruments beam out into the distant galaxies. With a calm psychedelic insistency that recalls Pink Floyd’s ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ this is as good an evocation of the mysteries of the cosmos as you could hope to hear.

http://www.astralingua.com/

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/