Soham De : About Happier Things, EP released September 2020

A new EP from UK singer/songwriter Soham De. It is a follow-up to ‘Blue’, a stripped back trio of songs released in June this year. Much of the music previously recorded by Soham De has been a melding of his heartfelt words with a variety of instrumentation; on all the tracks here it is just piano and voice.

1. Someone Else. The piano introduction is subtle then the voice fades in for this mellow song, when the killer chorus arrives the desperation of the narrator is almost painful. ‘….I end up losing out each time…so what have I got to do? what have I got to lose?….’

2. MM DD. The piano embellishments and chord changes almost steal the show in this short, sparse plea from the heart, with the vocal going from a whisper to a roar.

3. Leave A Light On. With an extended lyrical exploration of the idea of desertion and regret the keyboard echoes the hurt in the unresolved words ‘….we were stepping stones avoiding going down the waterfall….we won’t last…..if you don’t take my hand again…’

4. About Happier Things. A flowing instrumental centrepiece to the collection, perhaps portraying the waterfall in the previous track but essentially showing what a beautiful sound a solo (acoustic?) piano can capture.

5. A Loving Friend In Life. Using the fragile timbres of his voice to great effect on this stylish pop ballad, SD weaves the verses into a warm bluesy chorus; this is my favourite track on the EP.

6. Changing. A stately and emotion-filled bookend to the collection, the rolling piano chords and dynamics bring out the hurt in the vocal. It is a big finish to this involving and deeply personal set of songs.

https://www.sohamde.com/

Hydra Lerna : OK Again, single released August 2020

With an electronic swoop, UK pop composer, singer, instrumentalist and producer Hydra Lerna presages her new single with words that get straight to the point ‘…you can’t say that I’m not damaged, the scars are on my back….you know that I come with baggage, we have to face the fact….’

As the percussion threads through the stark but lush synth notes we soon get to the uplift of the chorus ‘…I’m ready to be OK again…’. Hydra has a track record of dynamic, soul-searching singles where the often dark tone of the lyrics ( ‘…touch me like a razor, hold me like a bed of nails…’ from last release ‘Camera’) is always tempered by a gift for melody carried by her rich soaring voice which adds a balance of optimism to the whole.

This release is the last one before a creative break to realign her musical career and it is a fitting temporary finale; memorably the music rolls, pushes and pulls like gathering storm clouds before the sun breaks through. In the eye of the hurricane of swirling keyboard layers and textures the multi-tracked voices add a lushness and grandeur to the resolution of the title line.

The last acapella lines float away into the ether and her single unadorned voice is the final sound we hear for the present from this talented and enigmatic performer.

https://hydralerna.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/10/01/pop-level-showcase-blue-moon-cambridge-27-september-2019/

The New Fools : Papillion – The Complete Lock Down Sessions, LP released September 2020

Cambridge band The New Fools have continued to consistently produce and perform new music in recent years and have not been stopped by a pandemic; with a combination of back and forth recording technology and determination they recorded a succession of singles through the lock down which are now collected on this new mini-LP.

As always with their work there is a variety of styles showcased here; the rocking ‘Solowly’ is heralded by a fuzzy guitar riff which gels the sections together on this comment on wealth and happiness, while ‘Sunday Night’ is a gentler, dreamy lyrical meditation from a nostalgic musical narrator featuring an empathetic guitar solo and flugel horn. ‘Another Way of Thinking’ is a languid companion piece to an earlier track, contrasting with the dynamic pace and urgency of imaginary film theme ‘Witch’.
‘Nothing Toulouse’ is a thoughtful melody and guitar line driven pop song with hints of the psychedelic tone that used to thread its way through 60s chart songs. ‘Old Bones’ features some rich sustained Hammond organ notes and a shade of Bob Dylan in the delivery and timing of the lyric phrases, followed by the joyous skiffle minimalism and even some whistling on ‘D.N.S.’

So far there has not been much direct reference to the strangeness of recent times but on longer track finale ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (not the Vera Lynn ‘classic’!) aspects of this theme are covered, accompanied by a discomfiting drum and piano waltz. The flugel horn makes another welcome appearance then eventually the song ends with a reference to the Beatles world-unifying song ‘All You Need Is Love’ with massed vocals and the richness of the instruments brought to the fore too.

https://www.thenewfools.co.uk/

Fightmilk : If You Had A Sister…, single released 4th September 2020

A new single from powerpunk quartet Fightmilk, a precursor to their second album which is now due in early 2021. Singer Lily has been treading a quieter emotional line with the release of an EP by her alter ego ‘Captain Handsome’ and this track is a bit of a crossover between that work and the full-on Fightmilk recordings. The band have a knack of setting an emotional tone with their music and then in the words fixating on an aspect of the theme, building up the tension obsessively until it overwhelms.

In this lyric the dark-edged insecurities flow ‘…she’s so confident, confident… and we look so alike…’, to the discontent of ‘…I’ve been cheering you on from the sidelines…you’ve been running around like a pro…its not the seventies any more and you say its a shame…’ Finally resolving into the repeated pay-off ‘…maybe if you had a sister you wouldn’t be this way…’. This is another excellent vocal performance from Lily, full of nuance and emotion.

The words hold your attention but it is the music that eventually wins over. Starting with a 1980s calming bass and drum beat the guitars subtly appear before stretching out with short solos and before the end an insurmountable bank of glorious noise. There is a piano somewhere in there too. It is a departure for the band and along with previous release ‘I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space’ hints at richness to come on the new LP.

https://www.facebook.com/fightmilkisaband/
https://recklessyes.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2020/04/01/fightmilk-im-starting-to-think-you-dont-even-want-to-go-to-space-single-released-march-2020/

Dream Nails : ‘Dream Nails’, LP released 28 August 2020

This is the long-awaited first album from London quartet Dream Nails, a glorious amalgam of rage, fun, protest and emotion; reminding you just how good their live shows are.
Interspersing the tracks with short spoken ‘skits’ to introduce songs and keep the momentum going it is a concise 24 minutes, full of insight and energy.

From the start, you are pulled into their world as the celebratory holiday sound of ‘Jillian’ flows into the bitter twists of the workplace in ‘Corporate Realness’. Whatever the messages, the bass sound and drum dynamics are off the scale. The lyrical ideas keep coming, but it is also their music that pushes forward; when I have seen them live the meticulous attention to their set up and sound pays dividends and this production has captured that as-live atmosphere.

The razor-sharp bass and surf-rock guitar splendour of ‘Swimming Pool’ is frenetically followed by ‘This Is the Summer’ which manages to celebrate the season as well as weave a strong environmental theme through the perfect structure of a powerpop single. Watch the video too to see the band performing in a scrapyard, wrestling with a giant frog and footage of climate demonstrations.

‘Payback’ has caustic riffs, a soaring echoing guitar and an excellent wide-ranging vocal performance in thoughtful quieter sections and then unleashed full-on.

‘In Other News’ introduces one of the most disturbing news items from last year, when homophobic taunting on a London bus led to assault. The band’s explosive response pulls no punches; ‘Kiss My Fist’ is musically and lyrically a very powerful track.

Catch them live when you can, in the meantime enjoy this scorching debut LP!

https://www.facebook.com/yourdreamnails
https://ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com/bands/dreamnails
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/06/25/the-baby-seals-blue-moon-cambridge-22-june-2019/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/11/21/indiepop-all-dayer-blue-moon-cambridge-18-november-2017/

The Harriets : Hopefuls, LP released July 2020

A track by track review of ‘Hopefuls’, the excellent new album by Leeds quartet The Harriets.

1. Cafe Disco. A distillation of many of the high spots on this album this stunning opening track explodes with creativity; the outsider but celebratory commentary of Pulp’s Mis-Shapes meshed with the musical complexity of timeless Squeeze singles. The first line ‘…Tell me all your guilty pleasures I’ll tell you mine…’ draws you in to listen.

2. Trip To The Moon. Previously released as a single this muses on old movies and cinemas as a backdrop to the hope of a relationship. From the dense, rolling instrumentation suddenly a catchy hookline then a soaring guitar solo appears. This album is full of surprises.

3. Darlin’. Wistful, winning pure pop laced with brass sounds, call and response verse lines and a big chorus ‘…baby when you look into my eyes…and when you come round and we play music through the night until sunrise….’

4. Have Fun In Your Workplace. With its languid pace, surreal lyrics and the patterns and solos in a pure guitar sound there are echoes of the Wave Pictures to be found here, always a good recommendation.

5. Rules For Travelling. Piano and close harmonies begin one of the most addictive and melodically strong songs on the album. The lyric seems like a strange disjointed road movie but definitely in a good way.

6. Johnny. It doesn’t seem to end well for the title character in this piano and jangly guitar filled song, although he may just have left his hometown carrying his Steely Dan albums ‘….but Johnny used to wander round, clutching ‘katy lied’ in his hand oh what a band….’ and forging ahead with his music career ‘….he wrote a lot of his songs with an American accent in mind….and so this story was a song, and the song was always going on…’. Like many of the words on the LP, there is a thoughtfulness and ambiguity which makes you listen again.

7. Come Home. With brass enhancement and a persistent driving beat, this is short and to the point ‘…I woke up today and you’d gone away…now all I seem to think about is you…won’t you, come on home…’. Melancholy but with an undercurrent of optimism.

8. Fall Out Of Grace. A lyric packed full of ideas and images with an excellent lead and harmony vocal and an inviting sixties Who/Kinks atmosphere. For me this is one of the many highlights on the collection.

9. The Boy You Knew. A thoughtful acoustic guitar bookend, delicate and emotionally raw. ‘…and I’ll never carry my love to your door….and I’ll never bury my love…I’ll sing it now once more…’

https://www.theharrietsband.com/

GodNo! : Too Much Future, EP released August 2020

A blistering new EP from Midlands indie supergroup GodNo! (featuring members of Grawl!x, Pet Crow, Cable, Merrick’s Tusk).

1. Unholy Water. Previously released, I described this as ‘…tight, spiky anger loping between a main riff of two chords underneath a sinister double vocal describing the psychoactive effects of alcohol. The satisfying total onslaught sounded like it could fit into an electric version of Brecht/Weill’s ahead-of-their times 1930s theatre songs….’

2. Canada Goose. Enigmatically titled two minutes of fuzzy metronomically regular chord changes, driven by a big drum sound and a blasé vocal that carries all before it and firmly sticks in your head.

3. Hulk. Another former teaser for the EP, ‘…begins slightly lighter, with just drums and sparse guitar before a raw bass joins the party…..an excellent disconnected vocal from Shelley Jane, with a gradually building level of intensity and tension ‘… when what I get is the minimum that I expect…’ soon exploding into the searing guitar-led sensational chorus… ‘…and being nice won’t save you…my strength is growing all the time…’
There are a couple of short instrumental bars but the rhythm guitar continues unrelentingly as the vocal phrases become more dominant, brittle and in the end unhinged… ‘… don’t say sorry for what I do…I could be nice this is the choice….’

4. Short Shrift. The relentless drum pattern steals the show as a platform for a loud doomy anthem with a mesmerising duo vocal chorus and sinister, echoing verses. It creates a dense and experimental texture but it is also simultaneously spiky and disconcerting like something from art rock veterans Wire.

https://www.facebook.com/GodNoBand/

Madison Fiorenza : Fever Dream, single released July 2020

A new single from Midlands based singer/songwriter Madison Fiorenza is a welcome slice of bluesy atmosphere, pervaded by a feel of darkening evenings and large open horizons. The delivery and tone of the opening line ‘…I wrap my eyes around you…you look at me like I’m in distress…’ seems to reference the much covered “I Put a Spell on You”, the 1956 classic torch song by “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins, and immediately draws the listener inexorably into Madison’s world.

The combination of acoustic and echoing electric instruments creates the texture, but at the heart of this track is a carefully structured pop song where the stealthy verses set up a killer chorus ‘…like a fever dream, seeping through the cracks in my quicksand mind…’.
The musicians do a great job of balancing their contribution to the track, but the central vocal performance from Madison is the key as it glows with relaxed emotion, enhanced by some light and airy harmonies in the chorus.

This is an impressive debut from a promising new talent.

Mr Ben & the Bens : Life Drawing, LP released July 2020

‘Life Drawing’ is the new LP from Sheffield quartet Mr Ben & the Bens. It is a thoughtfully structured concept album, with each lyric related to life events of characters in an imagined town.

Whatever the thematic intentions it is a collection of contemplative, instrumentally varied vignettes – getting to know them is time well spent, like walking through a gallery of unfamiliar impressionist watercolours.

‘On The Beach’ is a strong melodic opener, with a hook-you-in chorus and a keyboard figure that steals the show. Ben Hall’s voice sounds both naïve and world weary with an extra wistfulness on ‘How Do You Do?’ and rocker ‘Danny’.

The gorgeous sonic musings of ‘Astral Plane’ remind me of Neil Young if he was to inhabit an indie DIY album.

It is a generous LP, twelve tracks give chance for the listener to disappear into this welcoming world, via the daydreams of ‘Minor Keys’ and ‘Beast In The House’ or the hypnotic structural experiments of ‘Walking To An Open Sky’ and disembodied voice on ‘The Wind On Spittlehill’.

‘Irish Rain’ and ‘Closing Time’ are beautiful songs with a plaintive vocal accompanied by a gentle acoustic guitar and piano. ‘Watering Can’ is a rich waltz with a lush arrangement of brass sounds driven along by the rhythmic guitar; it is a fitting end to an exceptional collection.

https://www.facebook.com/mrbenandthebens/Album: Mr Ben & The Bens – Life Drawing review

Emzae : Thrive, single released 31 July 2020

A welcome new release from Midlands based singer/songwriter/instrumentalist emzae.

She is a performer who never repeats herself and continues to push at the creative edges of electronic pop. She always has one eye on contemporary musical textures and lyrical themes, realising that the strongest statements come out of real life experiences.

From the pensive insights of ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ to the taut musical flexings of ‘As This Day Fades to Another’ and the most recent concise pop bite of ‘Waste Our Time’ her recent succession of singles maintain a high standard of content, brought to sparkling life by her self-production skills and attention to detail.

The words on this new track reflects the time when emzae realised the importance of being yourself, instead of endless circling to fit in with peers and the social difficulties that can arise. Also that maybe sometimes it is best to just have a dance and not worry too much.

Certainly this is a track to move to; it draws heavily on some retro-classic influences; from the minimalist electro grooves of the first Madonna album and the gloriously meandering funky keyboard bass that recalls some of Stevie Wonder’s early experimentation with deep and punchy synthesiser lines way back in the early seventies.

Add lots of immaculately timed clicks and beats, a winning vocal embellished with spoken voice and distant responses and a killer chorus line ‘…this is what it feels like to be free…’. Wrap this in a smooth sonic veneer and weave into a perfect song structure and you have her sharpest three minutes so far.

https://emzaemusic.com/about

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