Category Archives: Music

Julia Bardo : Phase, EP released March 2020

Relocating from Brescia in Italy to Manchester, Julia Bardo has absorbed musical influences and developed her cross-genre styling to great effect. I wrote a review of track 2, one of the taster singles from this EP for http://www.indiemidlands.co.uk, now the finished package has been released….

1. Into Your Eyes Gentle sound effects lure us into this classy opener. Julia’s voice is right at the front of the mix, expressive but somehow otherworldly as the guitar layers are gradually added to. Unhurried and melancholy, it is an outstanding track with a sound reminiscent of Canadian indie dream-poppers Alvvays at their echoing best.

2. Please Don’t Tell Me With a disconnected feeling in the music and lyrics, this starts with a distant vocal floating across an alt-country soundscape. This soon bridges into a catchier chorus ‘….. please don’t tell me who I am…please don’t tell me who you are…’ as a guitar figure sounds subtly jarring and dissonant, then goes into a short instrumental link.
And all of this in the first half of the song. There is plenty of musical activity in less than four minutes; add in the video too with the red and blue coloured versions of Julia’s conscience, the possibly deserted performance venue and the old portable TV and this is a rich, rewarding and thought-provoking track.

3. Lonely Morning A faster rhythm-driven song, with percussion and a spiky electric guitar setting the pace. With the sentiment of the lyrics never quite certain the chorus ‘….and when you wake in the morning lights are gone and you’re lonely….’ settles nicely in your consciousness and won’t leave.

4. I Wanna Feel Love This is a hybrid of 60s multi-layer torch song and moody dream-pop, complete with Italian spoken word section and retro instrumentation. The yearning and heartache in the vocals stays with you as this excellent EP reaches its end.

http://juliabardo.co.uk/
https://www.wichita-recordings.com/

Tape Runs Out : Sleepwalking Into A Fire, EP released February 2020

Creative indie experimenters Tape Runs Out release an excellent new EP, a companion piece to last year’s ‘Talking Through The Walls’.

The Cambridge-based septet have an armoury of sonic flavours they can employ, but can still play  more conventional synth-rock as on opening track ‘Train Toy’. A waterfall of random sounds gives way to a stunning bass-driven chord progression; over this lushness a partly disembodied voice weaves strange, paranoid  imagery. The instruments come and go (especially a roaring guitar sliding up and down octaves) over a spectacular, relentless but soothing six minutes.
A bit like an epic song by The War On Drugs, or a journey travelling on water, it takes the time to do what needs to be done.

‘Anklebone’ is a much shorter psychedelic interlude, but like the following track ‘Children Will Dance’  there is a pulsing power produced by this talented ensemble.

‘Into The Sea’ is built around an urgent guitar figure (or is it the hammered dulcimer that they use later in the track?), tempered by some rich synths and violin. There is a melancholy in the lyrics on this pivotal song, ‘…maybe I’m optimistic…or maybe I’m sleepwalking into a fire…’

A repeating bass note beneath a treated violin heralds baroque chants and progressive rock moodiness in ‘Even Colours Follow The Rule’ then finale ‘Flowers’ is a calming meditation to bring this generous (twenty-six minutes) and accomplished EP to a satisfying conclusion.

https://www.taperunsout.co.uk/

Salt House, Storey’s Field Centre, Cambridge, 15 March 2020

Storey’s Field Centre in the new settlement of Eddington near Cambridge welcomed folk trio Salt House.
The clarity of the acoustics and the lofty church-like structure were an ideal setting for their haunting, celebratory music – conjuring images of stark but beautiful landscapes from the Scottish islands where they record.

Opening song ‘Turn Ye to Me’, “a tale of a baby stolen by a sea monster and replaced by a changeling whilst her mother gathered seaweed” is a new interpretation of an existing poem; immediately the music and voices on this and the following ‘Lay Your Dark Low’ set the tone for the evening. With acoustic guitars, a Gretsch hollow-body electric twelve-string, violin, viola and an indian harmonium the instruments were as lovely to look at as to listen to.

Imagine seeing hump-backed whales and orca off the coast then the northern lights in the sky, top it off by writing the gorgeous ‘Old Shoes’, with its fast guitar picking, relaxed harmonies and a lustrous violin solo and you have a perfect song to go with the ideal day.

Over the course of two sets they played many songs from their 2018 album ‘Undersong’ as well as all the tracks from their new long-player ‘Huam’ (the call of an owl), released at the end of the week. Each song was introduced and explained, drawing the audience into the rewarding layers of this rich musical genre.

The band feature the history and folklore of traditional Scandinavian and Scottish themes such as ‘The Sisters’ Revenge’; an epic seven minutes built around the recurring words ‘…the summer comes the summer goes…the grave of my father green grass grows…’. The words and music built the tension as the title characters prepared for the gory final act ‘…they hacked him into pieces small…’.

There were more contemporary reflections too; ‘All Shall be Still’ ties in the tedium of work routines with thoughts of escape and the timelessness of the natural world, also evoked in ‘Mountain Of Gold’ and ‘Staring at Stars’. Musically there was plenty to gently immerse yourself in but there was also darker, sombre moods such as the hypnotic dream of ‘The Road Not Taken’ with pulsing rhythmic guitar and soaring violin.

It was a warm, flawless and brilliant show.

http://www.salthousemusic.com
https://www.hudsonrecords.co.uk/
https://www.storeysfieldcentre.org.uk/


Josienne Clarke, The Musician, Leicester, 8 March 2020

The Musician pub and venue is hidden away on the edge of Leicester city centre, hosting an extensive programme of live music that crosses the genres.

Tonight the mellow audience welcomed two solo singer/songwriters; first on stage was Autumn Dawn Leader fusing folk and blues as a platform for her very personal lyrics of emotional exploration. Starting at the piano but mostly accompanied by guitar, her vocals fully inhabit the theme of the songs as they move through their thoughtful structure. ‘Bottle’ takes a simple idea and spins it into an impressive ballad, new single ‘Another Year’ is a considered lament for the passing of time, while the much-streamed ‘What It Is’ fuses distant and haunting verses with a powerful and catchy chorus.

Weaving together subtle and varying guitar playing with her mesmerising and pure voice Josienne Clarke makes music of breathtaking beauty, showcased immediately by her opening tracks ‘Seconds’ and ‘The Drawing of the Line’, two highlights from her 2019 album ‘In All Weather’. The lyrics have the timeless imagery of the best folk music ‘…the swallows only sing the summer long…and leaves will turn to ochre in the fall…’ as well as more contemporary themes ‘…I’m leaving London but I might be back….I’ve given him my best years and he’ll never give them back….’.

More experimental tracks such as the song about a song ‘Season & Time’ (‘…this one struggles with structure…it wanders in its rhyme and its reason….’) appear alongside brief ideas and interludes – like the loop-pedalled vocals of ‘Fair Weather Friends’ that we share for less than two minutes and then drifts off hauntingly into the ether. ‘Onliness’ was a fragile and melancholy vignette, ‘Cast In Stone’ was a track that she recorded with previous collaborators Pica Pica and there were new songs too.

In this intimate performance space Josienne effectively communicates and invites the listeners into her musical world, the two sets she played tonight were over all too quickly…

https://www.facebook.com/josienneclarkeHQ
https://www.facebook.com/AutumnDawnLeaderMusic
http://www.themusicianpub.co.uk/

Hydra Lerna : Camera, single released March 2020

‘Camera’ is the stunning new single from singer/composer/musician Hydra Lerna, self-produced as always and this time moving into a lighter pop groove. Despite the summery flavours of the music, there is a darker side in the lyrical conflicts of the narrator being in a difficult relationship, not quite sure of the conclusion but aware of the positives (‘….It’s a hundred degrees outside…but in here it’s intensified….’).

Many of her songs show that Hydra Lerna has always been able to turn a lyrical phrase inside-out and use some evocative imagery ‘…hold me like a bed of nails… I think I found my holy grail…’ and explanation ‘….it is all in our flawed design…puzzle pieces with jagged lines…’. But the situation described here is sort of equal, with the slightly sinister pay-off ‘…when we’re hanging in the balance….I’ll have the photographs of you…’

It is a lyrically dense and thought-provoking song and the music reflects the ebb and flow of the words; based around two six note keyboard figures there is a deep bass counterpoint and subtle percussion.
Hydra Lerna is a talented harp player and has featured this on some of her previous tracks but this time the unique instrument has been left to gather dust in the studio cupboard; as she explains “There is no harp in Camera at all sadly, just synths! I moved away from it for this track because I wanted to be free to create something upbeat and dancey, without feeling like I needed to sit and write with the harp”

The innovative video features lots of secret filming in Norwich city centre shops, as Hydra links together the photography of the video-watcher, herself and the surroundings and looks like she is having great fun in the process!

https://hydralerna.com

Sunset Beach Hut : Twenty//25\\five, single released March 2020

Midlands quartet Sunset Beach Hut last recorded in 2018, with ‘Comfort’ and ‘Upside-Down’ hitting many critical radars and most noticeably the much-streamed ‘Bury’. This distinctive track was simultaneously haunting and soothing with a flowing and busy guitar line and relaxed counterpoint vocals.

They have continued to play live to an appreciative following and now the excellent new single ‘Twenty//25\\five’ arrives, hinting at a renewed flourishing for the band. On this enigmatically named and punctuated track the guitar has continued to glitter in the mix, floating amiably through the song with reassuring echo and melodic depth as the vocals by Aphra Smith beguile and intrigue – lyrically cryptic and melancholic (‘…I’m a glass of champ that’s lost its fizz, a half empty bottle when it comes down to it…’) but always returning to the chorus line ‘….I came to dance my thoughts away…. out of your spotlights….’.
The lo-fi creative animation of the video combines effectively with the song to become strangely uplifting and thought-provoking, as the bass and drums drive the rhythm along with a relaxing confidence until the abrupt end; the two minutes ten passes all too quickly…

https://www.facebook.com/sunsetbeachhut/



Mammoth Penguins, Blue Moon, Cambridge, 3 March 2020

A big turnout for a Tuesday night at the Blue Moon, full of well-wishers for the upcoming appearance at the US ‘SXSW’ festival by Mammoth Penguins.
It was a cracking support bill too, started by Peterborough quartet SUDS. Opening with the catchy recent song ‘You’ll Feel Better’ the sound is immediately established; a warm, ethereal jangle-pop, topped with smooth vocals that float over jazz-infused guitar lines, a bass line that descends and garnishes reassuringly and drum playing that weaves everything together.
The breezy pop of ‘Evergreen’ was a highlight – this was their debut single and included on their EP ‘It Suits Me Well’, a fine collection soon to be added to with recordings of some of the new songs featured in this impressive set.

Last time I saw Goldblume they were playing live in a summer storm and as always generating enough energy to compete with the elements. Opening with ‘Fawning’, tonight they were showcasing the instrumental power and complexity when the ensemble lets loose, with math-rock time changes and the volume and dynamics of the trio constantly varying. A great communicator with an audience, singer/guitarist Jethro brings the lyrics to life with a vocal performance that cuts through the noisy wall of sound, especially on ‘Bleach’, one of their best songs.

Cambridge three-piece Mammoth Penguins have two excellent albums to draw songs from and they opened tonight with the compact and to-the-point ‘Propped Up’ and ‘Cries at the Movies’ from 2015. Emma Kupa’s vocals sound simultaneously disconnected yet right in the middle of the narrator’s viewpoint in the songs, especially on the more recent album tracks such as ‘I Wanna’, an uplifting and clear statement of love (‘….I wanna be waiting when your train arrives…I wanna save your life….’).
The tense longing of ‘Put It All on You’ with the lyric of contradicting pairs of phrases (‘….you filled me with confidence and then you drained it all out…’) is another highlight, especially when the band go into overdrive, as they also do on the power pop of ‘Cold and Lonely Place’.
Mid-set they perform ‘Closure’, one of my favourites and probably their definitive song in all areas, with the resigned melancholy of the vocal, the chorus that sounds suspended and unresolved and the bass and drums that alternately sit back then explode into action.
It was a standout set in an atmospheric venue…good luck at SXSW!

https://www.facebook.com/MammothPenguins
https://www.facebook.com/goldblumeband
https://www.sudsband.com/
https://schedule.sxsw.com/2020/artists/2022509