Tom Williams : What Did You Want To Be?, LP released April 2019

A track by track review of the new LP from singer/songwriter Tom Williams, a varied collection of anthems, ballads and late night musings. A formidable live performer (see my older review https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/tom-williams-and-the-boat-29th-may-2014/) with a fanbase that continues to grow, this is his sixth album of original material, produced by Tim Rice-Oxley of Keane.

1. Run Down A big live show opener, with full band backing and a chorus that pushes all before it as musically it travels down an open highway. ‘… I’m a bit run down at the moment…I let the days get away from me….’

2. Rock & Roll A bitterish tale of the pitfalls of life in the lower echelons of the music ‘business’, the downbeat thoughts boosted by another anthemic chorus with dominant keyboard chords underpinning ‘….I don’t believe in rock ‘n’ roll no more….’.

3. Dawned on Me This one is a bit special, a relaxed ballad with some jazzy textures of various acoustic instruments and quickly arriving at an addictive hookline sentiment reminiscent of a latter period John Martyn song. Lovely.

4. Graveyard More of a pacey country-rock feel to this track, the band pounding along relentlessly driven by the key line ‘…there’s a graveyard in my head where all my dreams are dead…’. A thoughtful middle eight takes the song in another direction ‘…you’re kicking down the door…you’re living in a constellation….’

5. Stay Afloat A change of tone here with many delicate guitars filling the mix, synthesiser tones and a subtly urgent drum track. Tom’s vocals and harmonies drift along as light as air.

6. Keeping It In Moving along at a smooth pace, with short lyric lines and the instruments drifting in and out like a song by The War On Drugs, there is a ringing guitar solo at the end to add to the atmosphere.

7. Early Morning Rain One of the first songs written for the album back in 2016, with a hint of darkness in its chord sequence and a big chorus hookline as ‘…the early morning rain washes your pain away…’

8. Some Time A pure, compact song, accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar and a cello sound. Returning to the key line ‘….some time in the future none of this will last…some time in the future all of this will pass…’ It is a moving, emotive vignette.

9. It’’s Dark Now A preview single for the album, this is a punch-the-air big anthem, built around percussive guitar and piano with a call and response chorus. The narrator is suffering the tribulations of late night excesses and broadening it out into wider social commentary.

10. Crying at the TV This is a dissonant nightmarish rocking workout, with a guitar simulating sirens, Tom’s voice filtered and distorted and generating an atmosphere of paranoia and ennui.

11. Real Slow Back to the country-rock pace, a jaunty song but with a serious intent and lingering message ‘….depression its a new low… days are drifting real slow….winter’s coming in and my windows are broken…’

http://www.tomwilliamsmusic.net/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/tom-williams-and-the-boat-29th-may-2014/

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Jeremy Tuplin : Pink Mirror, LP released 5 April 2019

A track by track review of the excellent new album from Jeremy Tuplin, the follow-up to his debut ‘I Dreamt I Was An Astronaut’ from 2017. With his distinctive voice and gift for words he has produced a heady concoction of attractive music and rewarding and complex lyrics.

1. Can We Be Strangers On this scene-setting opening track a gentle guitar welcomes you into his inverted lyrical world, ‘….secret, don’t tell me your secret, the purpose of a secret is that it is meant to remain a secret…’. Gradually the semi-orchestral sounds threaten to overwhelm the words.

2. Bad Lover Brilliant poppy up-tempo groove, driven by an addictive guitar figure, this was the preview single for this collection. Definitely a highlight, watch the video too with the band artfully succumbing to boredom during the mimed performance.

3. Just Cos Ur Handsome Another jaunty song, full of regret and wordplay, ‘…Too easily confused is the state…Of two hearts that are bound forever….In leather clad daydreams what do you even mean…’. The rhymes and assonance go across and through the lyric lines, as the guitar sparkles over the sympathetic rhythm track.

4. Gaia A paean of praise to planet Earth despite human shortcomings; featuring a series of great rhymes with the goddess’s name ‘…Gaia, D’you ever wish that cosmic rock had just slipped by ya….Guess it’s a risk of being the world’s most frequent flyer…’
The goddess herself makes a vocal appearance part way through. Divine!

5. Pandora’s Box An epic personalisation of the Ancient Greek myth, mixed in with nightmarish imagery and relationship paranoia. The central musical freeform section is unlike anything else on this collection before order and hope is restored. (although of course ‘…they say it’s the hope that kills you…’)

6. Pink Mirror Thoughtful but inscrutable lyrics on this one as the melody and instrumentation carry it along optimistically.

7. The Machine A bluesy, late night reflection powered by a compulsive bass beat and razor sharp drums. Personal social commentary ‘…Then I think of everything I do, think, feel or see…It barely contributes to the economy…’ as the narrator becomes lost in modern stresses.

8. Love’s Penitentiary This twisted love song opens with the winning couplet ‘….There goes my baby out the door again…She’s carrying my heart in a handbag made of my own skin…’ pulling you in to a lo-fi masterpiece, one of my favourites on the album.

9. Frankenstein Dark and moody, this slow burner features a ringing, roaming guitar and haunting words ‘…You’re like the internet personified but kept under wraps….Concealing the monsters you create ….’

10. Break Up
Neat and sparse musically with honest and touching words. ‘…This is it we’ve reached the final threshold….Robotic people with smart telephones….’. The imagery of modern relationships is convincingly tinged with disappointment.

11. Humans This brilliant cinematic song is the centrepiece of the album for me; a winner as it is a ‘list song’ featuring a random cast of people to support the key theme ‘….Humans, I love you….Despite my seemingly best intentions not to….’ The leisurely six minutes is bookended by gentle acoustic guitar and the names range in prominence from ‘…Buddha, Blondie, Dostoevsky…’ to footballer Peter Crouch and the surprising pairing of ‘…George Bush, Kate Bush…’. Impressive indeed.

12. The Beast A quiet end to the LP; an ode to escape and realisation ‘…I’ve been lying to myself, living through a telephone…For once I’m gonna listen to my mother and wear that warm coat she bought me…..’ With just guitar arpeggios it is one of the loveliest melodies on the album reminiscent of a hidden gem on an Edwyn Collins solo disc.

http://www.jeremytuplin.com/
http://www.trappedanimal.com/

Caswell, Smokehouse, Ipswich, 4 April 2019

This was the sold-out launch of second EP ‘Blindside’ from singer/songwriter Caswell, and was also a showcase for two other very talented performers in an excellent venue.

There was already a substantial audience when Alfie Indra started his set with ‘Hard To Cope’. His recorded songs and live performances are normally with a full band but tonight we had the low-key backing of 4-string tenor guitar or electric piano allowing the lyrics to shine through. His vocal style was well suited to this intimate performance space. New single ‘Monster Under The Bed’ and ‘Cool People’ (with crowd joining in) were particularly impressive.

Hydra Lerna is a multi-talented songwriter/singer/producer; creating her original music from electronic loop patterns driven by keyboard and an instrument not often seen in this setting, the harp.
Current single ‘Reckless’ was the stylish opening track; with distant, longing synth tones and a waterfall of strings establishing the structure ready for Hydra’s rich, compelling vocals. The song builds up into a many-layered soundscape with glorious recurring chorus before fading back to just the harp.
In ‘Angel V. Psycho’ the harp sound is processed into a tortured electric guitar tone weaving through a personal lyric set to an easy, relaxed rhythm then the heartfelt words of ‘Distraction’ were explained to the audience before the sparse electronica made the point elegantly.
A solo harp version of Dua Lipa’s ‘Electricity’ fitted in smoothly before the uptempo finale ‘Hydra’ brought this stunning set to a close.
(Hydra Lerna is playing her debut Cambridge show at the Blue Moon on September 27th, see you there!)

With nearly half a million streams on Spotify, ‘Animal’ was a strong set opener, its soulful groove immediately showcased Caswell’s expressive vocals. ‘Surface’, my favourite song from the new EP featured early on with its anticipation-building introduction resolving into a hypnotic anthem. This was one of the many songs that highlighted the dynamic range of her three-piece band; going from subtle keyboards and busy percussion to bold brushstrokes of electronics and thunderous bass during the show.
We were treated to a mighty re-imagining of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ with its familiar descending chord sequence underpinning vocal fireworks, contrasting with the restrained emotions of ‘Cry’, a gorgeous ballad from Caswell’s well-received first EP ‘The Shadow Aspect’. From that same release it was ‘Dance Sober’ that really set the room alight – it is the sort of song that you think must have been a huge hit already and this extended version pushed all before it, Caswell’s voice scaling the heights, the band letting loose and a guest rapper included too!
After the adrenaline filled set, the calm encore of ‘Brother’ was a calming, thoughtful end to the show, sending a very fortunate audience off into the night.

http://caswellofficial.com/
https://hydralerna.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/01/06/hydra-lerna-ep-released-december-2018/
https://www.facebook.com/AlfieIndra/

Liela Moss : A Little Bit Of Rain, EP released March 2019

Following on from her debut solo album ‘My Name Is Safe In your Mouth’ in November last year Liela Moss releases an excellent new EP of cover versions, with each song sharing the theme of rain and its various connections to the emotions.

1. Here Comes The Rain Again The most well-known track on the EP, a major hit for Eurythmics in 1984 and was always one of their more enigmatic mainstream works.
This new version explores the darker side with sparse distant keyboards surging into lush strings and dense instrumental textures as the vocal turns the emotions inside out. At times the multi-tracked voices echo through the track like a stormy wind that accompanies the rain.

2. I Can’t Stand The Rain
Soul classic written and recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973 and then made a bigger hit in an electro-disco version by Eruption in 1978, Liela has focussed on the power of the simple lyric of reminders of loss and regret, while the music has a percussive urgency as a strange repeating note fades in and out.

3. It’s Raining Today With the death this week of Scott Walker this track (from his 1969 LP ‘Scott 3’) has additional poignancy and prominence but it was always going to be the standout cover on this collection.
Starting with a gentle, thoughtful vocal it is at times a sweeping big ballad but still retaining an emotional intimacy, helped by lyrics such as ‘….it’s raining today, but once there was summer and you….those moments descend on my windowpane…’. A full orchestral sound is unleashed in the second half of the song, with a show-stopping performance from Liela.

4. Prayers For Rain
The original 1989 Cure song was described as ‘an evocative, wounding portrayal of emotional desolation. Water serves as a metaphor for the feeling of hope and enthusiasm toward life’.
A bold choice to include on the EP, and with lines like ‘…infectious sense of hopelessness and prayers for rain, I suffocate, I breathe in dirt and nowhere shines but desolate and drab…’ this could be quite a challenge.
The resulting cover is bleakly powerful and satisfying, maintaining a pace and relentless stately energy through the song, with the band allowing plenty of space for the vocal to cut through.

https://www.lielamoss.com/

Various Artists : This Is The Sound Of Sugar Town, Vol 3, released March 2019

Another excellent compilation from the musical cauldron which is ‘rock city’ Bury St Edmunds, also known as the ‘sugar town’ of East Anglia.

1. Gaffa Tape Sandy – Water Bottle Premier Bury trio start the LP with one of their best, exploding and distorting from the speakers.

2. Tundra – Walking Stick Noisy opening leads into loose grungy punk guitar topped with an angry rant ‘…shut your mouth, stop talking, I’ve heard enough and I don’t want to hear any more…’

3. Sun Scream – Extract Sinister introduction soon gives way to some heavy fuzz guitar and a mind-bending lyric. The psychedelic tones include some synth-type bubbling and a general good-time atmosphere.

4. Sam Eagle – The Things You Taught Me Multi-instrumentalist/singer Sam with a small-hours jazz groove, coaxed along by smooth guitar, languid brass and a counterpointing vocal.

5. Kulk – Fix Me With only vocals, guitar and drums Kulk produce an all-enveloping sound that is so heavy it generates its own gravity field.

6. Stretch Soul Gang – Earache Jazz-funk from six-piece combo, not afraid to give each instrument some space to contribute to the tight sharp mix.

7. The Interesting Times Gang – Wayward Navigator With a theremin giving its usual mysterious sound this is a mix of proper prog and folkrock. It is a tale of roaming the cosmos on some strange quest; by the end of the second middle eight I was completely under its spell.

8. Kyanos – Lost In Blue Peaceful, playful psychedelic jazz with gleaming, ringing guitar figures leading the sound. The instrumental break is a thing of beauty leading into a thoughtful, fading coda.

9. Druids – Up To Mars The spirit of Hawkwind classic ‘Silver Machine’ lives on in this space-rock extravaganza, featuring countdowns, voiceovers, a driving riff and a ruthless instrumental break. Get on board!

10. The Catch – Tie Dye Short and to-the-point power rock from this trio, featuring a strong hookline chorus and neat lyrical rhymes around the title, with a decisive blast of rhythm at the end.

11. Amethysts – Wreckers Beautifully created electropop, with stately but delicate synthesisers descending the scales and floating beneath the exquisite vocals. Gorgeous.

12. Thy Last Drop – A Rake’s Tango Great fun here as this hybrid of Divine Comedy, Tom Waits and the Pogues tells its tale of lurid woe. You keep expecting to speed up and it does to great effect, driven by a sparkling featured mandolin.

13. The Glitter Shop – Fizz This one moves along like a road movie, with pace and energy. There is a big catchy chorus and an effects-drenched guitar solo too.

14. B.U.H. – No More Lines First recorded song (apart from a seasonal ‘butchering’ of Fairy Tale Of New York on YouTube!) from Bury’s leading noise exporters. A calm intro then with two vocalists, frenetic guitars, bass and drums all hell is let loose on this environmental epic.

15.Enterlude – British Dream Full-on indie rock from energetic five-piece. Big chorus, swirling keyboard, punching bass and drums; a fine end to this compulsive summary of the local scene.

Many of these musicians can be seen at the Hunter Club alternative music nights run by local promoters ‘Washing Machine’, see you there!

https://repeatfanzine.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-the-sound-of-sugar-town-vol-3
http://www.washingmachinebse.co.uk/
http://www.hunterclub.org.uk/

Indiepop Half-dayer, Firebug, Leicester, 9 March 2019

A shorter version of the much-loved Indie day at Leicester city centre venue The Firebug, with a quintet of fine acts in an ideal venue.
First on were Boarder, a power trio establishing themselves locally. With guitar fuzz and echo driving the sound, super-deep bass and merciless drumming they were a gale-force of stimulating noise. Their recorded work is at an early stage but especially the slower ‘End Of The Day’ and their first single ‘Black Hole’ sounded full of potential.

Low-fi duo Panic Pocket performed sharp and ironic personal tales, bringing the audience into their world. The subtle guitar and mini analogue keyboard interweaved with the dual vocals and concise evocative words like ‘…you left me all alone in the dark……I walked home, via Morrison’s car park…’, from ‘Don’t Get Me Started’. They celebrate mundane ephemera, modern disappointments and on the lead track from their forthcoming EP ‘The Boss’, the pointless stresses of the workplace. Excellent.

I first encountered Derby quartet Pet Crow when they released their debut album https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/06/14/pet-crow-a-simple-guide-to-small-and-medium-pond-life-lp-released-march-2017/ and finally I get to see them on stage. Their live sound is a perfect balance of aggression and restraint; the luminous, compelling vocals sound like they are from a alternative universe sometimes aligning with ours as the three musicians hammer their instruments at a hyperactive work rate, as well as painting light and shade. I really enjoyed this brilliant set, especially the strangeness of ‘Harold And Maude’.

Wolf Girl played a fine set drawn mostly from their second album, along with oldie ‘Middlesexy’. ‘Moody’ is a strong opener, showing how the band use their twin guitarists and vocal layers to create a full power-pop sound. ‘Dream Partner’ is a retro treat, ‘This One Summer’ is a holiday hit while the bass driven ‘Maths In The Real World’ gives way to a killer chorus. ‘Samson’ is sparse, sharp and hypnotic with a catchy chorus (‘…Samson, don’t you look handsome…’) that all makes a sort of sense.

Headliners Personal Best are soon to release a new album and several tracks from that were featured tonight, along with ‘Love Is On Your Side’ and ‘This Time Next Year’ from debut LP ‘Arnos Vale’ and 2014 song ‘The Tide’. They are a band with a great strength and depth in song writing who lift their live sound into a punching, sparkling platform for tales of relationship angsts and optimism. Finally the stately descending guitar introduction heralded their anthem of diversity and tolerance ‘This Is What We Look Like’, which grows in stature with every listen, and was the best possible ending to the show.

https://boarder.bandcamp.com/
https://panicpocket.bandcamp.com/
https://petcrow.bandcamp.com/
https://wolfgirlband.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/personalbestrocks
https://www.facebook.com/stnpresents/

Emzae : Another Lesson Learnt, single released 22 March 2019

Emzae is a singer and electronic musician who has been recording and performing her own songs since 2014. After various demos her debut long-player ‘Double Life’ was an ambitious concept album about a fictional pop singer. It showed her versatility and range; from the frenetic 80s synthtastic pace of ‘Alter Ego’ and ‘We Hate You’ to the leisurely atmosphere of ‘Lounge’ and compact pop template of ‘Star Sign’.

Impressive indeed, then follow-up singles opened up new landscapes – starting with the much streamed ‘Lucid Dreaming’ (a dream during which the subject is aware that they are dreaming) which was a simple structure with a seemingly infinite number of textures and colours to frame Emzae’s entrancing vocals. Four experimental remixes added to the intrigue.

Recently ‘Glory’ started with an electric piano introduction then added echoing semi-ambient keyboards and bass lines. As the track built up with percussion and strange slowed-down vocal interventions weaving with a catchy hookline it was a darkly satisfying composition.

So now we have a new single to accompany some live dates in the UK. ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ is an atmospheric, assured track; throughout an electronic drumbeat drives the narrative with the words addressing the idea that society pressures all to find love in order to be secure and complete and how that can lead to wrong choices.
‘…I want to belong, just like anyone….in our quest for unity we get ourselves burnt….’, like many of her lyrics, the heartfelt emotion comes through in her haunting vocals. The instrumentation is complex and confident, the messages strongly expressed. Finally that pulsing beat stops, leaving just the multi-tracked voices to drift off into the ether…..

https://emzaemusic.com/