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/

Billy Bragg, Junction J1, Cambridge, 28 November 2019

Billy Bragg returned to Cambridge Junction J1 for three sold-out and different shows; featuring his current set, only songs from his first three albums and for tonight songs from the next three: Workers Playtime (1988), Don’t Try This at Home (1991) and William Bloke (1996).

Opening with his most well-known track ‘Sexuality’ the long set (with no support) was punctuated with musings, reminiscences, and of course specific political campaigning given the proximity of the general election. The three featured LPs contain plenty of ballads of break-up, make-up, disappointment and contentment but always laced with dry wit and a smart turn of phrase.

Although this was the umpteenth time I have seen him live there had not been enough room in his sets for many of these songs – so definitely a treat to hear the wordplay of ‘The Short Answer’ (‘…between Marx and marzipan in the dictionary there was Mary….’), the resignation of ‘She’s Got A New Spell’ (‘….she’s gone to get the cat in The next thing I know she’s mumbling in Latin….’) and the gentle melody and sentiment of ‘Brickbat’ (‘…I steal a kiss from you in the supermarket I walk you down the aisle, you fill my basket…’).

‘Valentine’s Day’ and ‘The Space Race’ are both ‘over’ in two of his most affecting and thoughtful songs. The politico-folk of ‘Thatcherites’ and an unaccompanied ‘Tender Comrade’ make their message clear and you cannot fail to be uplifted by his performance of ‘There is Power in a Union’ and the topically adapted ‘Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards’.

After two emotionally-involving hours there was a real surprise bonus – the ultimate UK road-movie soundtrack and one of my favourites ‘A13, Trunk Road to the Sea’ was the final song…

Home Page – Billy Bragg at the BBC


Various Artists : The Sounds Your Dreams Make, LP released November 2019

Subtitled ‘An Everlasting Compilation’, here is a selection of artists from the Cambridge-based record label…

1. The Jims – The A to Z of You and Me A leisurely instrumental bookend, featuring acoustic guitar, bass and xylophone with a hint of percussion. A dissonant piano interrupts creatively towards the end.
2. Victorian Tin – Silver and Perfume This one is strangely addictive, with shades of 80s cult popsters Japan as it features roving bass slidings and a world-weary vocal.
3. Bug Teeth – Emily A double note on acoustic guitar provides the rhythym and melodic structure of the song as the ethereal vocals enchant for this heavenly two minutes.
4. Karalinga – The Old Man Laid-back semi-psychedelia driven along by an amiable saxophone line.
5. Ivan Campo – Magic A short pastoral interlude. Woodwind and acoustics weave a spell featuring shows and shamen with sinister undertones.
6. Lizard Brain – Am I Just A Dub I haven’t heard one of these for a while, an echong, sparse percussion and bass infused remix of an existing track – this one from the band’s cornucopia album ‘Stray’.
7. A J Jackson – World In A Wheel This is a wandering, speculative track that always returns to the strong hookline. The relaxed vocal delivery and circularity of the song reminds me of 80s pop minor-masterpiece ‘Kiss Me’ by Stephen Duffy.
8. Stenbit – Vanished From Earth Electronic meanderings certainly conjure up a cosmic journey. Meteoric pulsing interjections and a distant phone ringing(?) make it all a bit unsettling.
9. The New Fools – Oh Steven, Why? A fine waltzing Smiths-style song carries a coruscating lyric that acknowledges the impact made by the band before describing the fall from grace of their lead singer.
10. Smoothy – Bad Television A chiming, lingering riff gives shape to the plaintive vocal and sentiments in this thoughtful piece. The bass burrows around under the stately beat as the guitar gradually takes over.
11. Ollie Jackson – Let’s Be Clear One of my favourite tracks on the compilation, a rolling acoustic guitar beguiles under a quietly despairing vocal and affecting melody.
12. Kammahav – I’m Hers, She’s Gone Lovelorn and a bit confused about the loss of a relationship, the narrator sums up the ambiguity over a reassuring acoustic rock background.
13. Captain Crylaugh (featuring Bug Teeth) – We Two Boys Together Clinging Acoustic and electronic loops merge into rewarding strata as Bug Teeth adds the spectral vocal magic again.
14. Schaum – This Film There is plenty of time for the ideas in this carefully constructed track to develop. It could accompany a long aerial view of a city at night in a dystopian black and white movie.

https://www.facebook.com/everlastingrecords/
https://thenewfools.bandcamp.com/album/various-artists-the-sound-your-dreams-make

Captain Handsome : I Wish I Had A Dog, single released November 2019

This is a new track from Captain Handsome, otherwise known as Lily, lead singer and guitarist of superb indie quartet Fightmilk, who are much reviewed on this site. It is a forerunner to a an EP due in the new year.

Starting with an unobtrusive rhythmic guitar line the lyric is a clever inversion of expectations. What seems like a cheery animal-friendly sentiment is set out as a bleak metaphor for unrequited love.. ‘….I wish I had a dog…I wish I had something that I knew how to love…as soon as I wake up I follow you around till you shake me off….’, but it is not the full story and gives way to the declaration in the second verse, delivered with genuine feeling ‘….and I just realised I’ve been like this my entire life especially at night…and I wish I didn’t care…’.

There is a chorus ‘…I am having so much fun, call my name and I will come….’, but not particularly lifting the emotions. If this was a Fightmilk track the rest of the band would have kicked in by now, with power chords and killer drums but this track is too clever for anything as overt, the only extra instrumental diversion is an other-worldly synth lingering or popping in the background.

It is a sad, plaintive piece but in its gentle well-crafted way it is really quite powerful.

https://www.facebook.com/captainhandsomemusic/

Big Joanie, Portland Arms, Cambridge, 13 November 2019

Formed in 2015 in Norwich, Sink Ya Teeth are a duo of singer and instrumentalist Maria Uzor and bassist Gemma Cullingford. Always embracing a pulsing dance beat their music builds layers around punchy repeating bass riffs, uncluttered synthesiser layers, live electronic percussion and excellent vocals from Maria.
The superb sound balance leaves space where necessary and as the lyrical ideas added to the experience there was more buzz and movement than usual in the Portland Arms crowd. ‘Pushin” drives all before it, ‘Complicated’ is catchy but tense while set closer ‘Substitutes’ is a deeper, brooding groove. A great performance, highly recommended!

Big Joanie are a trio from London, getting their messages across with raw guitar and lead vocals from Stephanie Phillips, Estella Adeyeri on bass guitar and at the front-of-stage drums was Chardine Taylor-Stone. They are very much an ensemble, all contributing to the vocals and crowd interaction. Many of the tracks tonight were taken from last year’s debut album ‘Sistahs’, but also new songs getting their first outing on this initial night of the tour.
With subversive social comment (the haunting ‘Token’), relationship politics (the sublime pop of ‘Used To Be Friends’) and cryptic words that just sound good (the addictive strangeness of ‘Down Down’) they are a riveting band to watch and hear. Lyrics are a strength but the music which is kept sparse and razor-sharp is always fresh and interesting. It is mostly fast-paced but ‘Cut Your Hair’ is more reflective and mellow and ‘Crooked Room’ abstract and sinister.

Their on-stage interactions and enthusiasm generate a supportive and warm atmosphere in the venue and as with the support Sink Ya Teeth it is good to see a band really enjoying themselves. A recent support slot for veteran art-punksters The Raincoats was a highlight they described with enthusiasm and relates to their own punk sensibilities which weave through all the music. While it is always good when at a show to escape fully into the musical world of the performers, this is a band with a conscience and awareness who made a point of reminding the audience about voting in the forthcoming surreality of the winter general election.

It was a brilliant set; by the time we reached the closing pair of ‘It’s You’ with its cymbal rushes and stealthy bass line then the all-out blast of ‘Fall Asleep’ the electricity was irresistibly flowing through the venue….

https://en-gb.facebook.com/bigjoanie/
http://www.sinkyateeth.com/


(photos by @MirnaGuha)

Psychic Lemon : Freak Mammal, LP released 8th November 2019

An excellent new long-player from Cambridge experimenters Psychic Lemon arrives on the back of their coruscating live album released in May this year.

Dedicated to the late Stephen Hawking,‘Freak Mammal’ is five tracks of force-field intensity, beginning with the statement of intent that is ‘Dark Matter’ – astronomers say that this is the stuff that makes up most of the Universe and much of that substance seems to be present in this enormous track.
It all seems so calm at first as a soothing electro-keyboard repeats over the steadily building drums until the arrival of a sky-soaring guitar. One of the great attributes of an electric guitar is that it can be made to sound like anything but a guitar and this track proves that, especially at high volume.
Seven and a half minutes in and the music starts to dismantle itself into component parts; the drum pattern breaks into a rush of cymbals underneath a guitar solo of improbably sustained notes until the whole mighty machine crashes in again for the rest of the song.

The slower ‘Seeds Of Tranquility’ is a more contemplative thirteen minutes, driven by the bass octave stretching and muted complex percussion. Perhaps inspired by the unchanging melancholy of the lunar surface it feels timeless and far away.
Then ‘Afrotropic Bomb’ steps back up a gear, this time a distorted keyboard and bass riff is the musical chassis that the song is built on (a song without words; like all of this and their last LP Psychic Lemon have dispensed with the vocals and evolved the psychedelic experience into its purest form).

The ambiguously titled ‘Free Electron Collective’ is a relentless drum pattern workout, in some ways the most immediate track on the album and would certainly be a highlight of their live show.

The Velvet Underground reference in the title of ‘White Light’ gives a clue to the hammerhead pounding of this finale but I don’t know if the VU ever quite mustered this energy level on their recorded instrumental digressions. Previewed on Psychic Lemon’s ‘Live at the Smokehouse’ album this track shows how adept the Cambridge three-piece are at recreating not just the sound but the whole all-consuming onslaught of their live performances.

http://psychiclemon.co.uk/

Derecho : Beneath A Stained Glass Sky, LP released November 2019

A track by track review of the new album ‘Beneath A Stained Glass Sky’ from four-piece rock band Derecho (a tornado that moves in a straight line)….

1. You Stole My Heart Starting with an accelerating drum call this opening salvo is a classic rocker. Singer and composer Jo Ash makes her presence felt with a powerful vocal, as the guitar slices in with organ backing and the big chorus is never too far away.

2. Red Ivy A gentle piano verse gives way to the surprising and dynamic chorus and it is all a bit dark (‘…so seduce me with your poison…’). I particularly like the instrumental interludes where the band have their chances to shine but Jo’s soaring voice is the centrepiece of the track.

3. Numb To Shame A bold statement of intent in the first few bars turns into a taut, twisting, mid-paced three minutes.

4. Fight or Flight Conjuring up the atmosphere of 80s metalpop classic ‘Run To The Hills’, this one moves quickly to its killer chorus. A waterfall of keyboard provides a brief soothing interlude.

5. Blue Heart An effective swampy blues re-working of a piano waltz from Jo Ash’s solo album (reviewed at https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/10/14/jo-ash-constellations-lp-released-october-2018/)

6. Pushing Me Away The band really go for it on this one; a mixture of stealthy verse framed by sinister, echoing keys and building up into a soaring refrain as the drums steal the show.

7. Oxygen A dark lyric ‘…suffocate my mind…strip my lungs of air…‘ contrasts with a backing that rolls along deceptively uptempo and optimistic.

8. Nowhere Land (Into The Black Hole) Inspired by the film Interstellar this is one of the longest tracks on the album, a slow-burning, anthemic piece. Jo’s clear voice sails along in the upper registers as the music veers into prog-rock stylings, with a marching synthesised string section eventually unleashing the dark hordes of Mordor.

9. Lunar Light
The lyric combines poetic imagery with the idea that the Moon can influence a personality ‘….under the light, lunar light…….is this really you? madden my senses, make me pretend I’m safe….’ This song has a retro 70s glam-rock feel to it, the combination of piano/guitar riff with the theatricality of the words works a treat.

10. Mountains A bold, broad finishing track, giving plenty of time to set the mood with a recurring figure dominated by the bass end of the piano. Jo’s voice goes through a range of distortion, to an emotive chorus and back again.
Another showcase too for the other band members and the production; making key contributions to this excellent rock album.

(Album launch show is at the Blue Moon, Cambridge on Saturday 16th November…)

http://www.derecho.band/#home-1-section