Category Archives: Music

emzae : Strip Lights, single released 16 April 2021

Always moving forward creatively, Derby based musician emzae adds a new single to her accomplished catalogue.

I have been listening back to many of her highlights (especially the textural beauty of ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ and the explosive tension of ‘As This Day Fades to Another (Rezzonator + Many Elephants Remix)’ ). The sublime 80s electrofunk confection of ‘Thrive’ burst out from lockdown last July and it is still sounding full of hooks and energy.

Now ‘Strip Lights’ places her narration in a gathering where perhaps she just doesn’t want to be, a metaphor for the confusion and unpredictability of modern social interaction; ‘…sit in the bar and listen, I just blur my vision, till the sparkles are just coloured dots…’ and ‘….I don’t want to be in this reality…‘. The lyric may tend towards the sombre but this is tempered by a moderate upbeat pace and the depth of production at which emzae excels.

From the welcoming introduction onward the layers of sound are complex and crafted, always framing the vocal to the right level. There is a recurring countermelody line, a bold flowering of synthesiser for the chorus and a bass groove that dances around underneath it all. It is another rewarding fusion of music, words and atmosphere, helped along by this performer’s unique vision for her work.

“…I definitely feel colour schemes when I’m listening to music, especially when I’m thinking of how artwork and visuals are going to look. I think of Strip Lights as green and orange…”

emzae (emzaemusic.com)

Emzae : Thrive, single released 31 July 2020 | cambridgemusicreviews

Redwood : Rewind, single released 9 April 2021

A new single from Redwood, a multi-talented singer/songwriter based in the Birmingham area. Her 2020 releases showed stylistic versatility and the subtle powers of her voice, with the late-night up tempo jazz of ‘The Radio’ and more recently the introspective musings, attractive melody and big chorus of ‘Honey Sauce’.

Now ‘Rewind’ feels more epic in its ambition. With just an ominous two chord piano introduction Redwood’s vocal breathes in with the enigmatic reminiscence of ‘…my hands are burned and scarred…’. This sets the scene for recollections and reflections around the idea of rewinding and being able to choose between repeating the actions or using life experiences to take a different course.

The piano settles into smooth triplets as the musical dynamics and tension of the song gradually build, controlled carefully over the four minutes of running time. Although essentially acoustic, the band reach an impressive crescendo by the end. Through it all Redwood’s vocals are the powerhouse of this outstanding song, whether quietly expressive, empathetically harmonising or letting loose and soaring all the way up to the heavens.

Redwood – UK | Facebook

Artist Roster – (indiemidlands.co.uk)

Charlotte Young : Coffee and Conversations, EP released April 2021

A new EP from Birmingham based indie-country singer/songwriter Charlotte Young, a follow-up to ‘Blown Away’, released last year.

1.Remedy. With its driving melody, crisp production and big chorus this is a strong opener to the EP. Charlotte keeps the lyrical ideas flowing, conversational in style and plainly setting out the emotions hidden behind the words as the band add depth and nuance.

2.On The Loose. Accidently turn up the distant radio speaker introduction and then you suddenly get the full blast of this energetic slice of country rock. Probably my favourite on the EP it is a full road movie in its three and a half minutes, as Charlotte delivers a winning vocal performance, with full credit also to the sparkling guitar and pedal steel from the band.

3.Praying for Rain. With the poignant opening lines ‘….staring at the driveway where you drove away….wondering how we made those same mistakes…’ this is the big ballad centrepiece of the EP, all building to the desperate resolution of the heartbreaking ‘…..I’m just sitting here praying for rain…’. The unexpected guitar solo, middle-eight and quiet restatement of the chorus all add contrasts to this fine song.

4.Early Light. This one moves along nicely, it has a relaxed pace with a subtle but insistent beat. The lyrical atmosphere created ‘…..coffee and conversations as we walk down town…’ sounds very inviting.

5.Whiplash – Acoustic. A new version of a track from Charlotte’s previous EP; it still has a fairly full instrumentation but with the acoustic guitar at the fore there is plenty of space for the vocal. The catchy chorus stays in your mind as this excellent collection comes to an end.

Charlotte Young | Facebook

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Léanie Kaleido : How to Weigh a Whale Without a Scale, LP released March 2021

Singer/songwriter Léanie Kaleido released her debut album ‘Karamelien’ in 2005, ‘Quicksands and Shadows’ in 2014 and now this enigmatically titled new collection.

Her songs exist in a timeless flow of voices and waterfall piano, seeming to sound simultaneously intimate and broad in scope. Opener ‘All The Things I’m Made Of’ illustrates this perfectly as the dual vocal threads its magic through the echoing instrumentation, before returning to the impressionistic piano figure.

The pensive waltz of ‘Nobody’s Hero’ is a poetic character description with a spiralling chorus, then Léanie’s gentle voice reveals the mystery of the title track ‘…..do you really need to analyse…love is love it has no size…its like trying to weigh a whale without a scale…’. Four minutes of musings and meanderings interweave with the cyclical chord arrangement and harp sound to produce an effective and addictively gorgeous track.

I like the pastoral indie-folk sounds of ‘Mr Dragonfly’ along with the retro-fun of ‘Hat Thief’ where the acoustic guitar is to the fore. The emotional core of the album is probably the final two tracks, the heartbreak recollection and assertion of ‘Teapot Girl’ over stately layers of keyboards, followed by the clever melody, lyrical allusions and soaring chorus of ‘Kite String Mantra’.

Like a dense and rich forest it is an album of mystery and romance to completely lose yourself in.

Léanie Kaleido – The world in the back of a spoon (leanie.com)

Lizard Brain : Confection, LP released 9 April 2021

A new LP from Cambridge collective Lizard Brain is another very impressive set of unpredictable genre skipping, as if each band member has secretly added a track or two on without the others noticing…

With found voices and 80s pulse, opener ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’ is a catchy electropop romp themed around a revealing 1960s psychological experiment on prejudice. Straight into ‘Othering’, a swampy metal blues that includes some of the social comment resonating with the events of the last year that is a recurring lyrical starting point on the album.

Lizard Brain are full of musical talent and studio invention; witness the programmed beats frenzy of ‘Round And Round’, the melancholic clarinet solo on thoughtful piano ballad ‘Featureless Zone’ and the lush synth tones of ‘Turning The Wheel’ and ‘Black Hole Love’.

There is usually a dark undertow beneath the original impression of the song; from some enigmatic words ‘…Iʼve been driving down the road…in my juggling clothes….’ or ‘…I fed you worms and said it was spaghetti….’ or ‘….and when push comes to shove you’ll be ready to watch them drown…..’ to music that creates a complex and haunting atmosphere, such as the building gothic nightmare of ‘Sleepyhead’ and mind-expanding electronics of ‘Just Relax’ (which is still strangely reassuring?).

Escapist, expansive and unnerving, the Lizards have produced another strong collection to creatively stand alongside their previous work.

Music | Cambridge | Lizard Brain Band (wixsite.com)

Lizard Brain : Stray, LP released 18th January 2019 | cambridgemusicreviews

German Shepherd Records – Different Noises For Your Ears

Beorma : Drown, single released 2 April 2021

Named after the founder of the city in the 7th Century, Birmingham duo Beorma have released ‘Drown’, the final track from ‘Virtual Emotionality’, their debut EP. The seven track collection is an amalgamation of smooth synthesiser and rhythms, veering between jazz, R&B and indie pop.

There is an emphasis on emotive vocals featuring some strong messages by singing and spoken word from the two voices. Highlights include the lush and stately but sinister 80s duet pop of ‘Control You’ (it is a gorgeous track, probably my favourite on the EP), as well as the sinuous summery vibe of ‘Right Behind You’.

Now ‘Drown’ is a more experimental piece, full of atmosphere, treated vocals and a cyclical chord sequence that lodges in your brain. With a loose structure the lyrics interweave as the voices drift in and out, juxtaposing descriptions of anxious feelings with subtle echoing keyboard chords and a heartbeat marking the time. The duo have again shown how to establish a clearly defined mood from the outset of the song.

Beorma | Facebook

Artist Roster – (indiemidlands.co.uk)

The Crystal Furs : Beautiful and True, LP released 2 April 2021

Originally a low-key release last year, the third LP from US trio The Crystal Furs now gets a wider vinyl distribution in the UK.

From the opening tones of the Farfisa organ on ‘Comeback Girls’ the lo-fi indiepop shines through, with jangly guitars, unassuming instrumental breaks and a naturalistic production that puts the Furs right there in the room with you. The band sound is also encapsulated in the minor epic of ‘Expo 67’, opening with the strangely inviting line ‘…we built a home of concrete bones…’, full of melancholy in the verses before the catchy chorus. Lead vocalist Steph Buchanan keeps herself carefully placed in the mix, making the band sound as one cohesive entity.

‘Too Kind To Be Cruel’ is a compact pop song with a yearning melody and some well-honed rhymes ‘…write the things you’ll say to me …engaging in so much hyperbole…‘, while ‘Burn Us Down’ rocks hard; ‘….you wanna cure me, you wanna fix me I wanna kick you to the curb…’ and is probably my favourite on the album.

Over the twelve tracks (and an extra set of mono remixes on the digital album!) The Crystal Furs clearly sound like they are having fun in their music, as summarised in the final track ‘Second Time Around’, ‘…..join a band and play guitar… and play it loud it isn’t hard…‘ This is a lyrically dense album too, full of themes, ideas, reflections and social comment and not afraid to give these carefully crafted songs the time to breathe and develop.

The Crystal Furs

Reckless Yes – An ethical and independent record label

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Gold Baby : Rabbits, EP released 26 March 2021

A new EP of indie light and shade from talented London trio Gold Baby, following on from a creative string of singles over the last couple of years.

1.Bodie Serene, shimmering guitar drives this track as the vocal from songwriter Siân cajoles and soars. The overall feeling seems to be one of alienation and disappointment but it is all beautifully done.

2. 2041 The quiet, agitated introduction and verses make you want to decode what is going on in this track ‘…there’s a man screaming in the hallway…and I can’t hear myself think…’ but when it gives way to a very noisy chorus you are carried along anyway.

3. Betty Previously released as a single this is a strange mixture of fantasy imagery with a sinister undertone ‘….let me tell you what happened…somebody ate my mother’s lipstick…somebody tried to read my palm….somebody called me….Cinderella so I hit the fire alarm….’. Musically the song structure pulls you in with its dramatic flourishes and winning melody lines.

4. Captain Dorego My favourite track on the collection, lyrical dreams to escape into ‘….carp fishing maybe bass…out of the stream ourselves at last…as idyllic as it seems….’ sit alongside darker thoughts ‘….can I sing in the small church choir…..fill it up with gasoline….light a match and wait for you to scream…’. It is a delicate treat, the words floats above gentle guitar with bass and drums that handle the poly-rhythmic backing perfectly. The song has its own dance too (see video link below)….

Gold Baby – Captain Dorego – YouTube

HOME | Gold Baby

Rosey Cale : Breathing Fire, EP released 18 March 2021

A new EP from Welsh alt-country singer Rosey Cale showcases her range of writing and performing styles across four excellent tracks.

1.Mary Jane. An anthemic full band rocker, with an assertive vocal lead, driven by a raw descending chord sequence to echo the resentment and anguish in the lyric, ‘….it’s eleven thirty two he’s still not home….he’s a cheater…’. Playing out with an abrasive guitar solo it is a strong opener.

2.Breathing Fire. To reflect the title this is another big blast of country rock, with more acerbic observational lyrics ‘…you walk in the room think everyone is after you…but you don’t see that everyone is rolling their eyes to your lies…’. The drums and organ fill in the sonic textures before the hypnotic ‘….you took, you stole…‘ refrain builds up to a grand finish.

3.Secrets. Gentle acoustic guitar heralds this folk-influenced ballad. Rosey imbues the timeless melody with authentic emotional resonance,‘…if I could take all of this pain from you I would…’. A subtle and gorgeous highlight of the EP.

4.Keeper. Rosey has previously recorded a Welsh version of this mid-tempo track (‘Ceidwad’) and whatever the language the optimism and spirit of the song shine through, riding on a poppy tune and addictive hookline. The lead slide guitar line duels and interweaves to great effect with the memorable vocal.

ROSEY CALE – Home

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Film Review of ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’, BBC4, 16 March 2021

Another in-depth TV treat for the music obsessive, following the recent broadcast of ‘King Rocker’, chronicling punk legends The Nightingales.

With Julian Temple at the creative and directing helm, ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’ is an informative, romanticized, warm, irreverent and funny trip through the career of the Pogues frontman, with interviews, live performances, animations, TV appearances and Irish history. The two hour running time allowed for a huge supporting cast orbiting around the music and cultural influences of Shane; from Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats to Joe Strummer and Johnny Depp. Family members and friends provided extra insight but in the end it was the music clips and comments from Shane that were the key.

Shane MacGowan seemed to have been filmed in the front row at numerous London gigs in the late 70s for the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, noticed by the NME as ‘the face of ’77’. These appearances were followed by many recordings of the early Pogues shows, encapsulating their electricity and commitment to re-energising traditional Irish music.

Many of their best songs featured; ‘Streams Of Whiskey’, ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’, ‘Sally MacLennane’ and of course ‘Fairytale of New York’ also had to be there, particularly serving as a reminder of the talent of Kirsty MacColl. The sentimentality of ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’ is probably a superior song and their brilliant cover of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ was juxtaposed with a liner leaving for the US, one of many references to the Irish diaspora.

Shane described the intensity of success when the band’s fame led at one point to 364 shows in one year, causing health problems and ending with him leaving the band in 1991, (though there were reunion shows from 2001 onward). With excerpts from his 60th birthday tribute show, this very watchable film left a lasting impression.

Shane MacGowan – Official Website

The Pogues, Thetford Forest, 14 June 2014 | cambridgemusicreviews

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