James Brute : Lost Soul Music, EP released January 2020

A track by track review of ‘Lost Soul Music’ from James Brute, the long awaited follow-up to 2014’s macabre percussion and vocal single ‘Bury Yourself’.

1. Again-Again A stately but sinister blues guitar riff marches through the mix marking time like a giant swinging pendulum blade. The desperate vocals from James are a match for this moody music from the five-piece band, especially when the chorus bursts into life.

2. Here She Comes At nearly eight minutes this movie soundscape takes plenty of time to build the atmosphere and when the opening lines finally arrive ‘…I feel like Don Quixote…taking on the windmills in my mind…’ memories of the two albums by previous band The Brute Chorus are evoked with their lyrical density and plethora of references.
Like the classic desert horizon movie scene in Lawrence Of Arabia it is all in the anticipation of the arrival of the enigmatic figure and the gradually building power of the instrumentation.
With impressionistic phrases ‘….she swims among the fishes, she feeds me figs and dates and oranges and plums…..’ and the barely contained fireworks of the band and voice this is a spectacular track.

3. Danielle Opening with a gentle guitar figure and subtle cymbal percussion this meditation revolves around another mysterious character, the quasi-biblical Danielle, ‘….welcome back again, this is the lion’s den you’re walking in….while the others are asleep pull the thorns out of my feet and lead me away….’. It may end well ‘….I think this must be love but I’ve been wrong before….’ but the ominous bursts from the band indicate a darker future…?

4. Archaeologist Blues
This loose, strolling blues is a vocal tour de force, packed full of imagery and ideas, namechecking cultural touchstones ‘….Time Team and Indiana Jones….‘ along with some sharp one-liners ‘….I’ve traded honey for a bee sting….‘ always leading to the haunting hookline ‘….give me one second I will try to reveal it….‘.
The band are given a real chance to shine around a guitar solo in the second part of the song before the vocal finishes abruptly, bringing this excellent EP to an end.

https://jamesbrute.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2015/01/20/recommendation-brute-chorusjames-brute/

Emily Frith : Open Book, EP released January 2020

1. Better In the introduction the vocal and sparse instrumental backing draws us in, before the band fully kicks off on this strong opener. Alternating between the big chorus and back to the quieter moments this is a well-structured song, with a lyric of overcoming adversity ‘…now you’re standing your ground you can’t be torn down…everything that hurt you made you better….’ finally pivoting around a neat middle-eight with the clear statement of hope ‘….and I know rain comes on the sunny days…but it makes your favourite flowers grow…’.

2. Out This is an EP of variety, drawing on pop, poetry and folk influences and here on this track the simple piano accompaniment is infused with the melancholic optimism of the best country music, as a plaintive verse resolves into the positive longing of the chorus. ‘…if life’s an adventure, I wanna go with you…if you’ve got your worries, I’ve got mine too….as long as we’re together, we’ll figure it out……if life’s an adventure, let’s go, go, go out….’.

3. Giving Up on Love The brooding rock background underlines a lyric of the narrator’s emotional questioning and turmoil. The sharp rhythm of drumbeat and electric guitar of the verse escalates into the full-on chorus ‘…I don’t know if I’m doing wrong, but the guys I like end up in all my songs…’ and ‘…I don’t know if I’m doing right…’ ; the only answer seems to be the title phrase. The middle eight is a bit bleak too ‘…once you’re a cheater you’re always a cheater..’ but despite the downbeat sentiments this is still a powerful and involving song.

4. The Blue Currently my favourite on the EP, this is a rolling up-tempo country gem. Like many of the songs in the genre it is about leaving, travelling and arriving as a metaphor for a relationship. With the spirited vocal and relaxed but pacy backing this track must be a highlight in any live set.

5. Want to Love The other four songs have already been singles but this thoughtful piece is a new addition to Emily’s catalogue. Driven by an impressionistic melody and loose instrumentation featuring acoustic and slide guitar the mood is unhurried and mellow. The sentiments of the lyric are delivered with conviction and heartfelt emotion as this excellent EP fades away into the ether.

https://www.facebook.com/emilyfrithmusic/

12 Highlights From 2019 : A Sampler Of The Year

A distillation of tracks taken from some of the memorable albums, singles and Cambridge shows of 2019…

1. Sleaford Mods: Into The Payzone
Opening salvo for their storming Junction set; minimalist, wry and addictive.

2. Ward Thomas: Hopeless
Alt-country harmonies first heard at an instore appearance then in a superb show at the Junction.

3. Luke James Williams: Still in Bed
From 2018, but with steadily gathering airplay and compilation appearances this is still an emotional tour de force.

4. Hydra Lerna: In the Dark
Strong and perfectly crafted single from Norwich multi-talented electropop performer, making her live debut in Cambridge.

5. Billy Bragg: A13, Trunk Road to the Sea
After many BB performances I have finally heard this favourite live!

6. Captain Handsome: I Wish I Had a Dog
Lily from Fightmilk releases an excellent solo single – thoughtful but playful, tense but catchy.

7. Big Joanie: Used To Be Friends
Passion, politics and sharp tunes at the Portland Arms. (Enjoyed support Sink Ya Teeth too!)

8. Robyn Hitchcock: The Speed Of Things
Another fine song from the intricate Hitchcock canon and as always a brilliant live show.

9. Molly-Anne: Cold Is the Night
Chance discovery of this acoustic gem from Gloucestershire folk-country rising star.

10. Caswell: Surface
Classy upbeat single from this dynamic live performer and skilled songwriter.

11. The Tuts: Let Go of the Past
Cambridge debut from energetic indie trio, electrifying the show in a Corn Exchange double bill with The Specials.

12. Jeremy Tuplin: Humans
This elaborate and engrossing single with famous people name-checks was a highlight of his art-folk album which was brought to gentle life at his Blue Moon show.

The New Fools, Relevant Records, Cambridge, 20 December 2019

From the opening in 2014, Relevant Records in Cambridge’s Mill Road has been the perfect combination of relaxing coffee shop and a basement full of new and old vinyl. Live music has regularly featured too, sometimes amongst the records but now more often in the larger area upstairs.

Arriving late I unfortunately missed support Karalinga but after some seasonal sing-alongs Cambridge five-piece The New Fools opened their set with a cover of ‘Day Tripper’ (the Christmas Number 1 in 1965!). The rest of the set showed that the band have plenty of their own material to draw on, with featured tracks from the album ‘Brilliant’ from earlier this year (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/07/07/the-new-fools-brilliant-lp-released-june-2019/) and a soon to be released new collection.

‘Martine and Me’ is a bittersweet tale and ‘New Way Of Thinking’ brings the piano to the fore. I enjoyed the Höfner bass lines in a new summery song (about a druid?) and ‘Something About Jane’ was an admirable slice of Britpop. Lead singer and composer Tony Jenkins says he wants to create an original northern soul song and ‘House Of Having Fun’ has the trademark energy and certainly got the audience moving. New single ‘John Candy Talking’ is out soon and ‘The Big Wheel’ is as ever a standout track; the melody, words and atmosphere perfectly driven along by the band.

The finale was the optimistic but realistic ‘(Waiting For) The Good Times’, setting up the crowd for the festive season.
It was an excellent, upbeat show in this very warming and welcoming venue…(though I was looking forward to a live outing for their acerbic tribute/dissection of Morrissey ‘Oh Steven, Why?’, but I suppose no-one would have wanted to lower the mood!?)

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

Molly-Anne : Autumn Leaves, EP released December 2019

Issued as a very limited edition, this EP showcases the quieter acoustic side of Gloucestershire folk-country composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Molly-Anne.

1. Little Cove Starting with a gently weaving guitar arpeggio the vocal appears as if over a distant horizon. The verse resolves into the evocative ‘….and I’ll be yours under the Cornish sun,’til morning comes…’. This track creates the foundation of the atmosphere for the whole EP – spectral, minimalist, beguiling.

2. Against the Tide With slightly more urgency on this song, the guitar figure personifies the flowing water of the title. ‘….I feel I’m swimming against the tide now….I know this world is turning slow now….fear of growing old…’. It is a gentle musing on choices and passing time (and was inspired by Pink Floyd’s classic ‘Time’). A harmonica appears near the end, the only other instrument to feature on this collection.

3. Cold Is the Night Straight into my pick of the year dozen, this is a gem. An understated ballad, the subtle guitar chords waltz along as the yearning lyrics deliver a feeling beyond the poetry of the words. ‘…those flowers on my windowsill, gold as the sun they remind me of you…and I’ve known heartbreak before…and what I wouldn’t give to see you walk through that door, for me…’. Gorgeous.

4. When You Leave Another song that goes straight to the emotional core, a slower meditation on life after loss, also drawing in the passing of the seasons and the slowing down as autumn moves into winter. A beautifully sung free-form melody leads into the haunting chorus ‘… I can’t sleep, the monsters in the night won’t comfort me…’

5. Yellow Sky From the impressionistic title and the moody introduction the fine vocal performance interchanges between light-as-air verses and restrained power in the chorus. Again the autumnal theme of the EP underlies the optimism, with the striking middle eight reflecting the longing at the heart of the song.

https://www.mollyannemusic.co.uk/


Various Artists : Cambridge Calling Volume 4, released 13th December 2019

Cambridge Calling Volume 4 is a new compilation of tracks from musicians based around the Cambridge area, with proceeds going to Emmaus – a charity which aims to reduce homelessness.

1. The Rugs – Blame It On Me Upfront, sparse rocker driven by a guitar counterline and some well-placed handclaps.
2. Colour Sergeant – Now it’s colour Dense ambient layers and creative sampling make a spectral, descending waterfall. A luminous three minutes.
3. ncklcng – Sleeper in the Valley This one is a bit of a grower, busy and accomplished jazz-funk with sax and sharp bass.
4. Kammahav – MLIRIR An acoustic version of the track from their second EP, standing for ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’ and a mystery extra IR? ‘…fields full of skeletons….students on courses reciting white horses….’ populate the lyric as a strong rhythm guitar drives along like Gordon Giltrap’s cult instrumental hit ‘Heartsong’.
5. Luke James Williams – Still In Bed Brilliant song and performance, as previously reviewed on this site ‘…Sung with passion it is a standout track; a simple but stunningly effective ascending and descending guitar line is the only accompaniment to the emotionally raw lyric, coupled with a very attractive melody….’
6. RJ Archer and the Painful Memories – It’s Snowing In Hell As previously reviewed on this site ‘….adding an extra energy to the insistent riff, always returning to that great title line,‘…you tell me that you’re doing well, it must be snowing in hell…..’ With the gradually increasing desolation of the vocal it is a mini Tarantino movie soundtrack….’
7. SENEX IV – Valentine Dark rock from trio drilling deep into the mineshaft of Ziggy Stardust glam overlaid with a lovelorn lyric that doesn’t give up.
8. Moonstrips – Nothing Like You This has the initial flavour of echoey detachment of an early Pink Floyd piece then by adding extra noise to a full dense mix, the trio deliver a powerful rock song.
9. Kyanos – Egypt This four-piece draw on psychedelic and dream-like pop to construct a mainly instrumental piece which after gentle synths and a brief vocal sojourn surprisingly starts to rock out.
10. Cong-Fusion – Turned Tables Jazzy and with an 80s smooth sheen, this is an appealing and spirited pop song, embellished by electric piano, brass and a strong lead vocal.
11. Tribes of Europe – Intermission Sounding like it is straight from an imaginary film soundtrack, full of wide-open spaces and a restrained foreboding.
12. Annie Dresner – Nyack One of the brightest talents on the Cambridge indie-folk scene with a wistful reminiscence set over a gentle guitar and piano.
13. Absolute Beginners – Here Tonight Like a meandering river this sociable folky-rock track flows by and is a bit of a grower, winningly enhanced by the moog synth solo.
14. Pink Lemonade – Space Girl The poptastic trio have a new EP out but this is where their recordings started, as reviewed on this site previously ‘….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 can cram into the grooves. Follow that!…’
15. Slava B. – Games of System Singer/songwriter from Wisbech, sounding like more than a full band and with very distinctive vocals crossing between doom metal and The Ukrainians.
16. Future Now – Dying Universe Full-on rocker with prog rock storytelling and even though the song has many sections and paces there is no letup in the intensity over nearly seven minutes, good to hear the extended guitar solo ending too.
17. Karalinga – The Old Man Another track that grows in stature with each listen, reviewed on this site previously ‘… Laid-back semi-psychedelia driven along by an amiable saxophone line….’
18. Amethysts – Stones The gorgeous signature track by this soulful electronic duo; the voices, keys and guitar which sounds excellent live have transferred stylishly to this recording.
19. Lo-Grade Lawrence – Purple Pyramid An instrumental featuring dense layers of synthesisers, built around a steadily wandering theme and bass tone, garnished with other-worldly drums and percussion.

https://germanshepherdrecords.bandcamp.com/album/cambridge-calling-volume-4

Pink Lemonade : Take It Squeezy, EP released November 2019

A new EP from Cambridge-based trio Pink Lemonade, following on the pop blasts of ‘Space Girl’ and ‘Sugar N Spice’ as well as live shows including an appearance at Bury St Edmunds Homegrown festival (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/06/09/homegrown-festival-bury-st-edmunds-8-june-2019/). The band play an infectious mix of high energy indiepop – full of hooks, fun lyrical twists and thoughtful messages.

The three songs here continue the tempo of their previous singles, starting with ‘Rewind’ – a catalogue of hazy recollections of a night out featuring neat lyrics and a killer chorus. The bass sound on this track cuts right through the mix and the guitar lines are straight to the point. Drums pound and embellish the uncluttered space they leave in all of their songs. It is a cleverly structured song elevated further by the razor-sharp production.

‘Time To Run’ is a bit of a departure from their trademark sound, augmented by an unexpected brass section this is a mid-pace reflection on the transient nature of relationships and their decline from initial optimism ‘…that night I gave you my phone number…and you let me wear your jumper….’ leading to the unavoidable conclusion ‘…I guess it’s time to run…’

Speeding up for finale ‘Short Shorts’ the band deliver a ska-infused punkpop spectacular, the music mirroring the clearly stated empowerment of the words ‘…let me wear no make-up… when will you quit asking me what’s up?…’. There is the added urgency of an irresistible hookline ‘….I do what I want….I do what makes me happy…’ with the brass section back in the mix too.

It is a storming track and like the rest of the EP it is perfectly crafted for including in the fireworks of their live set.

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