Author Archives: iknoweno

Ward Thomas : Invitation, LP released October 2020

The fourth album from alt-country duo Ward Thomas sees them infusing their sound with contemporary pop to great effect. Opener ‘Sweet Time’ is as uplifting a track as you could hear; especially with the accompanying video of the sisters and friends cycling on a summer day and when they are singing ‘……sipping on champagne stars and slowing down the speed of light…’ all is indeed well with the world.

‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ and ‘Open Your Mind’ keep the pace up but the waltzing ‘Someday’ stops the show. It is a torch song fully using the gorgeous harmonies that roll up to a summit before fading away then reaching the big string-backed chorus ‘….don’t say you love me yet…darling I’m still too scared…’. Gorgeous.

‘Meant To Be Me’ and ‘Hold Space’ are reflections of aspects of current chart pop with acapella interlude ‘Dear Me’ showcasing the voices again. ‘Wait Up’ recalls aspects of their earlier albums sound while full-on Bond theme ‘My Favourite Poison’ is a sweeping strings soundscape.

The last two tracks are quiet and thoughtful with the sisters delicate and gentle harmonies in the forefront of the mainly acoustic backings.

There is more – three bonus cover versions, starting with ‘Halfway’, a rousing duet with James Blunt and a song reminiscent of Ward Thomas crowd pleasers at their live shows. ‘Human’ with Jack Savoretti is a countrified live rendition of The Killers’ song with an angelic vocal arrangement and the finale of Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’ is as good as a cover of a classic song should be.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.co.uk/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2020/06/21/ward-thomas-the-space-between-ep-released-june-2020/

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

Invitation
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Eilis Frawley : Adult Life, EP released 23 October 2020

Originally from Australia and now based in Berlin (via South Korea), Eilis Frawley uses drums and electronics on this new EP as soundboards for her spoken words. With experience of playing in many bands and interweaving loops and effects with her own virtuoso performances she has created a unique fusing of musical ideas and challenging lyrics.

‘Human’ starts with a distant chiming keyboard motif and pensive thoughts, ‘….how do you know if you have reached your potential….potential is best kept as exactly that….something on the horizon but is never reached…’ alternating with a pulsing driving fuzzed beat. Eventually the two themes clash and bond.

The lusher tones of ‘Gone’ soon explode into a percussion workout; it sounds like you are listening to two accidently overlaid tracks trying to escape each other. As on all of the EP, there is something about the clear vocal delivery that makes you hang on for the next line; these pieces are overflowing with ideas.

‘Darkest Truth ‘ is a very harrowing recollection over an unrelenting industrial backing, while ‘Broken Ankles’ is a hard hitting ecological lament. ‘Louise’ is a sad tale but lightened by a delicate touch modern jazz accompaniment.

The martial drumming introduction of ‘Stats’ heralds a litany of depressing numerical facts, delivered with angry resignation. Pre-released, this is a pivotal track on the collection.

As the mainly instrumental ‘End’ plays out, you realise how good this fiery drumming, atmospheric keys and addictive words would sound in a live performance, but while we long for those distant times this EP is an excellent listen.

https://www.eilisfrawleydrums.com/

http://recklessyes.com/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2020/01/21/eilis-frawley-intellectual-men-single-released-january-2019/

Nervous Twitch : Keeping Faith In Something, single released October 2020

I last saw Leeds trio Nervous Twitch at the Cambridge Indie Pop Alldayer in 2018, they were definitely one of the big highlights of the day, performing many of their ‘…..short songs played quickly….’ Now they are soon to release their fourth album, the first since ‘I Won’t Hide’ in 2017.

The A-side of this new single is ‘Keeping Faith In Something’, built around a retro bass keyboard riff, sparsely jangling surfy guitar and powerhouse drums. Erin’s vocals are simultaneously deadpan and sort of joyous with dark advice hiding in the lyrics, ‘…..following your heart doesn’t get you anywhere…..outta food, outta work, outta life, outta choice…..of how to live as another number…..’, finally deciding that ‘….playing it safe doesn’t get you any further….’. It is three minutes of powerpop that makes you dance and think.

The B-side is a change of pace, slowing down to let the uncluttered guitars carry the rhythm along with some unpredictable chord changes. Meanwhile the echoing vocal meditates on boredom and hope ‘….and I feel I need another heartbreak…. just for the spark of inspiration…..’ and then perhaps sums up some of the negatives of 2020 so far with the title line ‘…and all we need is something to look forward to…..’ 

https://www.facebook.com/nervoustwitchband/

https://recklessyes.com/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2018/11/15/indiepop-all-dayer-blue-moon-cambridge-10-november-2018/

Keep Back Ivy : Make It Right, single released October 2020

A new single from Leeds duo Keep Back Ivy, a follow-up to ‘Read All About It’ released in July. Lyrically that was a critique of the place of media in modern society, reflecting unease through evocative imagery along with sparse and unpredictable guitar.

The new track ‘Make It Right’ is another musical low-fi filmic soundtrack, this time starting the song with moody guitar notes and this dark introduction ‘……you get together in your friendship groups….and talk about all you hate...’

Then the song changes direction and the rhythmic chords lighten the ambience despite the serious messages in the words. Above all it is a plea for understanding of gender diversity and acceptance instead of exclusion, with the atmosphere echoing some of the tone of the previous single.

Trying to resolve the different viewpoints, ‘…we all just want to make it right….but you’re not my sister if you’re telling me what to think or do….you’re not my friend if you’re telling me who else can be my friend….’ leads to a pure, clear and impassioned vocal performance, as the bottleneck electric guitar gently soars and serenades the listener (showcased nicely on the accompanying video).

As if there are three songs in one, this is a complex, rewarding and thoughtful single…

(All proceeds from this track will go to GIRES www.gires.org.uk/what-we-do/)

https://www.facebook.com/keepbackivy

Ffion Rebecca : Silk – Lowpass Luke Remix, single released October 2020

With this new version of a track from earlier in the year, Cambridge-based singer/songwriter Ffion Rebecca has added another atmospheric and smooth recording to her catalogue for 2020, showing her range and ability to embrace different musical styles.

‘Shoulda Known’ was a duet with Leicester collaborator Tayo B and their contrasting vocal contributions created a contemporary pop single with some big electronic swathes and a pace that eased along with relaxed confidence. ‘Love Again’ was a late-night ballad, accompanied by a jazz guitar to complement the emotive voice.

The original ‘Silk’ featured piano and saxophone to great effect. Now on the soulful remix the voice has been blended into the mix to give an even richer timbre to the sensual lyrics. The saxophone is more prominent and a sparse uncluttered beat pushes the track along. The catchiness of the chorus is the great strength; ever present it shows Ffion’s ability to effortlessly deliver the sense of the song. Spellbinding.

http://www.facebook.com/FfionRebecca

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Order Of The Toad : Re-order Of The Toad, LP released 2nd Oct 2020

A track by track review of ‘Re-Order Of The Toad’,  the new album from Glasgow esoteric indie-psych trio Order Of The Toad.

1. Ladys Mantle  Previously released, read about it in detail here

2. Just Because  Mellow pop built around rhythm guitar, a driving middle-eight and the spooky chorus that stays in your head.

3. Rabbets  The tale of Mary Toft, who claimed to be giving birth to rabbits in 1726. The bizarre story, baritone vocal and counterpoint musical complexities make this a great listen.

4. Brintons Marrakech  Possibly a song about a carpet or a Moroccan city or who knows? I like the way the vocals are linked and underpinned by the unrelenting bass and guitar figure.

5. Fabulator  The band draw on that 60s hinterland between prog rock, folk and psychedelia on this album to great effect and this is another track that splices pop into that heady brew too.

6. Slow Ballad 44  Moody and sombre, with unexpected chord changes to keep the listener guessing. Maybe this would be an unpredictable live set opener, pulling the audience into the world of this unique band..

7. Do It With Feeling  Loose, laidback retro type hit with spiky instrumental passages. Sounding simultaneously timeless and modern, it could be nicely covered by fellow psychsters King Gizzard…

8. Lindow Woman  Another historical theme and detailed lyric, this time the narrator inhabits the remains of a body from Roman times found in a peat bog in 1983. Listen, learn and enjoy…

9. Toads Theme  A strange epic duel of character-filled vocals and abrupt, urgent instrumentation. An incomprehensible delight.

10. Mend It  A hippy reverie with a comfortable psychedelic melody and structure, in the middle it breaks up nicely into distorted guitar solos.

11. A Pittance  Like a medieval tale of legendary battle, the marching drums and bass play along under a fine storytelling vocal from Gemma Fleet.

12. Cruise Control  This final track combines many other elements from the album to make a fresh, sparkling punch of pop.

https://www.facebook.com/orderofthetoad

https://recklessyes.com/

http://www.gringorecords.com/

Such Small Hands : Carousel, LP released 18 September 2020

‘Carousel’ is a new release from Such Small Hands, the performing name of Brighton singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Melanie Howard. A blend of treated acoustic instruments, voice and electronics create a haunting, drifting sound.

‘Lonely Is The Rain’ is an evocative and sombre title for the opener – a measured and mellow five minute meditation, with an echoing guitar and keyboard counterpointing with Melanie’s ethereal voice. The electronic percussion picks up the pace near the end but the listener is overwhelmed by the delicate beauty of the track.

‘Do I Belong Here?’ is built around an acoustic guitar triplet figure and smoky layers of vocals weaving into a heady mix. ‘Drifter’ is a lo-fi delight then ‘Still Dreaming’ is probably my favourite on the LP. The introduction could be the theme to a cult sixties movie thriller then it transforms into a sensuous interweaving of vocals and descending chord progression. With spectral keyboard tones continually adding flavour, by the end it is epic and almost orchestral in its ambition.

The title track ‘Carousel’ is built around a repeating note and a louder electric ambience alternated with quieter thoughtful sections. The pensive and beautiful ‘Anhedonia’ closes the album (along with two bonus acoustic reworkings of older songs).

Reflecting the experience of ten years of writing and reshaping of the music, this excellent LP rewards in-depth listening and immersion in the tracks as they range from atmospheric vignettes to darker pieces that occupy the hinterland between nightmare and daydream.

https://en-gb.facebook.com/suchsmallhandsmusic/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/02/05/such-small-hands-the-deep-released-october-2016/

 

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/