Victorian Tin : Chagall, single released June 2020

Swedish duo Victorian Tin began making music several years ago and now have renewed recording, beginning with ‘Silver and Perfume’, included on a compilation and reviewed on this site as ‘….strangely addictive, with shades of 80s cult popsters Japan as it features roving bass slidings and a world-weary vocal….’.

The newly reworked single ‘Chagall’ is named after the twentieth century Russian-French artist, famous for his colourful, dreamlike imagery. His reproductions have featured in many carefully planned living spaces ever since his death in 1985. While superficially of the mainstream, the images still have an unnerving quality and their otherworldliness is also reflected in the name of the band and this track, especially the slightly dissonant string quartet introduction.

The pace picks up as the rest of the instruments push the the song along, driven by the rhythm of an acoustic guitar. The lyric describes an encounter with a painting  (‘Over The Town’) depicting ‘….a man and a woman flying or escaping in the sky and she is blue he is green…’ then the musings become more sinister ‘…and you slept here in my grave…when was it…in another time?….’. An echoing piano joins the mysterious party as the narrator becomes lost in his world of the picture.

It is an attractive and enigmatic track, a prelude to a four track EP due later this year…

https://www.facebook.com/Victorian-Tin-114189660008927/
https://www.facebook.com/everlastingrecords
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/11/30/various-artists-the-sounds-your-dreams-make-lp-released-november-2019/

Over the town, 1918 - Marc Chagall - WikiArt.org

Malena Zavala : La Yarará (Live at Studio 2), single released June 2020

This is a new version of La Yarará by Malena Zavala; it was the title track on her second album released earlier this year but this is an as-live studio recording cut at the legendary Abbey Road studios. The singer is based in London but draws on her Argentinian roots, she describes herself as being influenced by many sub genres; Cumbia, Afro-Cuban, Afro-funk, Andean folk, Argentine folk, bolero-son, and for this track, ‘reggaeton’ which is a music style originating in Puerto Rico during the late 1990s.

From the mysterious ascending keyboard in the introduction before the full band effortlessly join in the party it is a sinous, flowing track which evokes the image of the serpent of the title. As well as Malena’s sparkling voice the percussion and unadorned drums are crucial to the essence of the song and a spectacular trumpet solo appears from nowhere and nearly steals the show at the end as it duels with the graceful electric guitar lines.

I saw Malena and her band at the Blue Moon in Cambridge last year (see review below) so this is a reminder for me of an excellent show which has stayed in my memory…

https://www.malenazavala.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/04/28/malena-zavala-blue-moon-cambridge-25-april-2019/

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Ward Thomas : The Space Between, EP released June 2020

A new EP from UK country-pop duo Ward Thomas, collecting together some recently pre-released songs and a new gem…

1. Hold Space. As reviewed on this site previously ‘… a well balanced union of a melody that holds the song without over-elaborate instrumentation and of course features the sisters’ sparkling harmonies. A straightforward lyric makes the point very effectively as it describes how to be there for someone who may be struggling emotionally…’

2. Someone to Someone. In many ways this is a low key and mellow EP, with an emphasis on acoustic instruments and the controlled expressive power of the vocals to deliver the thoughtful musings. Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas are joined on this track by acclaimed singer/songwriter Dan Owen, trading lines and sharing harmonies before building up to the big chorus.

3. Landslide. I have heard many live covers of ‘Dreams’ in recent years but in my opinion this is a superior song from Fleetwood Mac’s 70s heyday. This jewel is a stunning version; vulnerable and melancholic with harmonies that pull every essence of emotion from the lyric and leave the listener overwhelmed. Gorgeous.

4. Painted Legacy. After being turned inside out by the poignant mood of the previous track, this is another subtly restrained but very moving piece. The words express both a specific and generalised meditation on losing a loved one and how their whole life can have so much impact.
It is a lovely gentle melody interweaving with choice lyrical phrases ‘….brings alive my memories of how you spun pure gold out of the dust… I can’t bear to see you go somewhere far where I can’t follow….’. Concise and unhurried this fine song brings the brilliant EP to an end.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.danowenmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

 

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Love Ssega : Celebration, LP released June 2020

A track by track review of the new album ‘Celebration’ by singer/songwriter Love Ssega. I saw him play live in 2017 (see review below), it was a stripped back performance with just jazzy guitar accompaniment but immediately connecting strongly with the audience.

1. Celebration (No Bad News). A polyrhythmic and funky groove with a dissonant edgy backing and a wide-ranging vocal performance. A bold, unrelenting introduction to the collection.

2. Bring the Water. Raising the tempo for this sharply constructed song with the voice jousting and weaving against a neat jumpy bass pattern and intricate percussion.

3. Find Another Way. Mellow marimba and an insistent drum figure provides a smooth platform for a emotive lyric, always leading back into the title line chorus. A great pop song and definitely one of the many highlights on this LP.

4. Rich Forever.
Not the most immediate track on the album but definitely a grower, instruments and extra voices drift in out and through the mix underneath the vivid and strong central vocal performance.

5. Solutions. As the staccato electronica backing oscillates between pairs of chords the narrator ‘…wants solutions…’ but the track builds up and it seems that this of course is left unresolved…

6. Automation. More electronic keyboard pulses and rhythms with the biggest and catchiest hookline on the LP, as the lyric reflects on dehumanisation and the future, ‘…tell your people you love them, not technology….’. I think an early version of this was in the set when I saw him back in 2017, it is a powerful song and sentiment and probably my favourite track on the album.

7. Save Me. Another track where the adept playing and production enhance and fully realise the musical and lyrical ideas. Driven by bass and drums and an excellent vocal the soulful groove is a satisfying end to album.

https://www.lovessega.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/09/05/mary-epworth-norwich-arts-centre-2-september-2017/
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Sunflower Thieves : Hide And Seek, single released 29 May 2020

‘Hide and Seek’, is the excellent new song from Leeds Indie folk duo Sunflower Thieves.

Debut single ‘Two Halves’ was a mellow introduction to their work, with a meditative verse giving way to the catchy chorus featuring their spot-on harmony vocals. Follow-up ‘Heavy Weight’ had a distinct melancholy threading through the descending chord sequence and carefully crafted melody and meditative lyrics ‘….what would you do if all the streetlights burned out?…’ resolving into ‘….restlessly waiting for a train….to take away your heavy weight…’.

The band perform live with just acoustic guitar and their luminous vocals but this new track allows other instruments and extra voices to drift in and out, adding subtle multi-layers to the mix. The overall effect is laid back, atmospheric and as summery a sound as you could want. It is a warm and comfortable lyric, evoking reminiscence of younger, less complicated days ‘…..falling asleep in the back of your car… hoping you’ll carry me up to my room…’ , feelings so good that ‘….I don’t want this to end…’.
It is definitely a track to fully immerse yourself in.

This is their third single and you can find other high-quality tracks on YouTube and various radio shows too if you do some searching…

 

https://www.facebook.com/sunflowerthieves/

sunflower theives hide and seek artwork

Kirsty Merryn : Our Bright Night, LP released April 2020

A track by track review of the new LP from singer/songwriter/pianist Kirsty Merryn, an ambient-folk concept album of snapshots and musings from dusk till dawn.

1. Twilight. A distant piano, freed of time constraints drifts and sustains as a bookend to the songs. When the voice and other acoustic instruments arrive the scene is set.

2. The Banks of the Sweet Primroses (feat Phil Beer). Straight into this traditional tune, Kirsty’s pure voice tells a tale of a dark ambiguous encounter, nicely tempered by a subtle violin.

3. Constantine (feat Alex Alex). The piano is back at the forefront for this gentle and unhurried duet of love and longing ‘…hold me in your arms…only you can keep me safe…’

4. Mary. Stepping the tempo up, Kirsty delivers a winning vocal with variations on ‘…Mary…say you’ll come walking with me…’ in this concisely structured folkpop track.

5. Our Bright Night.
Over an atmospheric drone from a shruti box, the vocal takes on an extra sparkling clarity in this timeless reflection.

6. The Deep | The Wild | The Torrent. Probably my favourite track on the collection, one to lose yourself in like some island landscape. The graceful waltzing chord sequence is laced through with many instrumental contributions that embrace the voice and lyric to perfection.

7. Outlandish Knight. A version of another traditional tale, steamy and sinister with mysterious and mythical overtones, augmented by the tension in the music.

8. Little Fox. Sparse and concise, a sweet melody with an undercurrent of the dark woods.

9. Shanklin Chine (feat Sam Kelly). The tree-lined gorge in the Isle of Wight is the evocative backdrop to the duo’s contrasting vocals and some neat twists in the melody. The sombre story doesn’t end well ‘….at Shanklin Chine the jagged rocks would be her only marriage bed…’

10. Thieves of Whitehall. A contemporary comment set to a melody and backing that could be from an older tradition.

11. The Wake. A return to the purity of simple piano and voice, this is another favourite track for me, packed with poetic imagery ‘….or the freezing air should take a hold in June…….and the grass that grows will remind me of our parting…and the grass grows long…’ Gorgeous.

12. Dawn. The final instrumental, as the excellent musical vignettes of the night fade but linger in the memory…

https://www.kirstymerryn.com/

Graywave : With Me, single released June 2020

There are hidden gems in the back catalogue of West Midlands based singer/songwriter and guitarist Graywave, the performing name of the multi-talented Jess Webberley.

On ‘Fluid’ from 2019 the poignant guitar and disconnected voice evolves into a huge doom-laden noisewall. The track then moves seamlessly and impressively back into almost a soothing instrumental and multivocals. ‘Afternoon Escapism’ is an evocative title for a languid guitar-line led pop musing. I also really like the dreamlike excursion of ‘Rain’, bringing to mind the best of Canadian indie outfit Alvvays.

Now new single ‘With Me’ takes the music in another direction, featuring a softer edged sound but with more dissonance, looseness of structure and otherworldliness in the music. The vocals have been absorbed into the textures of guitars and insistent drum pulse.
As the bassline descends gracefully and the guitar sparkles and fills the space above, the lyrical mantra ‘…always searching…always yearning…’ speaks of timelessness and longing.
Graywave describes the enigmatic cover artwork as ‘…depicts my bedroom with the addition of a portal leading elsewhere, tying in with the mood of the song….’.
This atmospheric track is released on June 18th, with more music to follow and hopefully some live shows with her band.

https://www.facebook.com/graywaveuk/

Jeremy Tuplin : Space Magic, single released May 2020

A new single from highly creative troubadour Jeremy Tuplin, a precursor to new album ‘Violet Waves’, due later this year.
In 2019 he released ‘Pink Mirror’, an LP absolutely crammed with musical and lyrical ideas. It embraced love, mythology, social comment along with detailed musings on the grand and mundane (see review below). With his understated vocal delivery and either a simple and elegant guitar accompaniment for ‘The Beast’ or the progressive band excursions of ‘Pandora’s Box’ the sounds always complemented the direction of the words.

‘Space Magic’ is a track featuring his band The Ultimate Power Assembly, contributing a mellow lounge-jazz bossa nova groove perfect for heady summer days. The guitar dances around the main chord sequence, ringing out and playing around with the main tune. The words are a spaced-out road trip of surreal and imaginative astronomical references, ‘…the Saturn moon Enceladus – supposedly nice this time of year….’ or ‘…let’s dance, Cassiopeia’s second chance….’, inviting us to join him for the ride and ‘….take a chance…at the black hole dance…’ which may feature ‘…Capital Gold Motown Classics…’.

This journey culminates in what sounds like the heaven of ‘….intergalactic truth love-manic wreaking havoc in the most beautiful manner….’.
An electric guitar solo flows seamlessly into the mix and then fades out as this evocative song floats off into the ether.

http://www.jeremytuplin.com/
http://www.trappedanimal.com
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/04/14/jeremy-tuplin-pink-mirror-lp-released-5-april-2019/

Three Singles, released Spring 2020.

Ward Thomas – Hold Space

‘Hold Space’ is a new song from UK country-pop duo Ward Thomas, building on the reputation of their acclaimed 2019 ‘Restless Minds’ album and it will be included on a forthcoming EP.
It is a well balanced union of a melody that holds the song without over-elaborate instrumentation and of course features the sisters’ sparkling harmonies. A straightforward lyric makes the point very effectively as it describes how to be there for someone who may be struggling emotionally. They recently supported James Blunt on his UK Arena Tour which probably opened up a whole new audience but I think I preferred seeing them headlining a stunning sellout show in the intimate setting of the Cambridge Junction last March.
The duo have now rescheduled their acoustic tour for September this year.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

NZCA Lines – Real Good Time

NZCA Lines is a London based electronic duo who I first heard when they released a lush bit of synth-pop and nearly hit called ‘Two Hearts’ in 2015. As I often do I was initially attracted by the band name, inspired by the giant animal patterns in the Peruvian desert only visible from the air. This new track ‘Real Good Time’ features on an album ‘Pure Luxury’ due in July; this time the keyboards and beat have been simultaneously pumped up then unravelled as well as featuring unpredictability in the vocal sounds. The influence of some of the looser party-groove tracks by Prince weaves its way through too; it is a winning combination of out-there funk and elegant electrics.

https://www.nzca-lines.com/

Molly & The Moon – Rise

‘Rise’ is another super single from folk-country four-piece Molly & The Moon, a follow-up to heartbreaking ballad ‘Cold Is The Night’.
This song is very much an anthem of positivity, probably it would be perfectly placed as a finale to a live set (when those days come again…). Driven throughout by a pulsing rhythm guitar over a recurring and reassuring bass the lyrics refer to the inevitable passing of time ‘….can’t stop the sun from falling over the edge of the horizon…‘ but counteracted by the optimism ‘…as the sun will rise once more…‘. With extra band harmonies, the rich tones of keyboard and the continuing subtle but complex percussion pattern ‘Rise’ builds nicely to the grand final chorus – showing that there is plenty going on instrumentally in this song to add to Molly’s excellent vocal performance.

https://www.mollyandthemoon.co.uk/

Various Artists : Now That’s What I Call The Portland, LP released May 2020

A compilation of tracks by Cambridge-based bands old and new, curated by Ian Perry of Aaahh!!! Real Records, the aim being to help financially support much-loved pub and music venue The Portland Arms through these difficult times (see link below!).

1. The Portland Brothers – Invisible Love. Poignant, acoustic country-folk from a band named and formed after a meeting in the venue.

2. The Judge Reinholds – Stars and Satellites. Distant musings take their time to erupt into an impressive onslaught of spectacular noise.

3. Grieving – Bow and Arrow. Continuing the noisy theme and capturing their distinctive live sound, this restless rocker is punctuated by more contemplative interludes.

4. The Baby Seals – Vibrator. Contributing one of their supreme tracks, the mighty trio deliver a concise and singalong powerpop single.

5. Old Man Boom – No Longer Alone. As a contrasting backing to the affecting vocal, the waltzing banjo takes on a life of its own before the whole band crashes in.

6. Model Village – Eulogy. A wistful new track from the much-loved Cambridge collective. As always the voices, acoustic and electric instrumentation are an irresistible combination.

7. B-Sydes – Good Times. With a committed vocal performance pushed on by pure band energy, the track continues to build the momentum to the end.

8. Goldblume – Husk [Live]. One of the rock trio’s best tracks; complex, edgy and rewarding as it twists unpredictably.

9. Beverley Kills – Walk With Me. Blistering introduction, razor sharp sound, machine-gun drumming, strange abrupt middle eight and a vocal soaring above all. Unbeatable.

10. Freedom Faction – What’s it All About? According to their bio the band ‘… inject liquid punk directly into your brain via your earways…’ Agreed.

11. Heartwork – The Used. Roving softer-rock track, the complexity of the musical structure and a passionate vocal gradually pulls the listener in.

12. DoYouThinkHeSaurus? – Lipstick Teeth. Experimental punkish brooding guitar keeps you guessing until the chorus hits home.

13. Mammoth Penguins – Dick Move. Taken from their brilliant 2019 album, the trio deliver a short, precise slice of emotional angst. Powerful, catchy and possibly my favourite on this collection.

14. Just Tom & Pete – Sweet Ass Voice. A gentle meandering with spoken word, acoustic guitar and a winning emotional intimacy from this unassuming duo.

15. The Pony Collaboration – Close Enough. Last seen in Cambridge supporting The Wave Pictures, this easy-going ensemble were a real treat to hear, with tracks that roll along like this pop-perfect meditation.

16. The Travis Waltons – Year of the Snake. With a third album due out soon, the trio remind us how well they can structure a single as the distorted guitar riff and the emotional disappointment in the voice drive towards a chorus line that will stick in your brain.

17. The Grey – Silent Man. Dense layers of guitar and drums introduce this rock epic, the trio make no compromises and take their time delivering this doom-laden but thoughtful anthemic finale.

https://theportlandarms.bandcamp.com/album/now-thats-what-i-call-the-portland
http://www.theportlandarms.co.uk