A new single from singer/songwriter Jen Dixon, following on from the evocative ‘Which Way Is Down?’ from earlier this year. That was a wistful ballad; full of restrained intensity in the vocal, complemented by the haunting echoes of the production. The catchy chorus and spoken word break all added to the winning effect.
Now ‘Save Me’ further explores some darker thoughts and stretches more emotional heartstrings, along with showing her gift for composing a strong melody line and delivering it with conviction. As the chords descend the bleak picture is painted, ‘…standing on a knife edge….waiting to fall….’, but there are also threads of optimism in the repeated lines ‘….I want to know will you catch me if I fall…I want to know will you notice if I’ve gone…will you save me?….’. Jen’s recordings are self-produced; here the subtly crafted musical arrangement gently frames this fine song.
A new collaboration between Cambridge musician Gavin Chappell-Bates and electro dance music producer Charlie Howell, Star Pixel release their first single. The duo’s name may be an amalgam of macro and micro scales but this sound is unreservedly big, brash and full of the passion that Gavin Chappell-Bates always brings to his singing performances, no doubt influenced by his favourite band the Manic Street Preachers whose album has a cameo in the accompanying video.
Brilliantly edited by collaborator Karen Cann, the multiple visual images featured are rapid jump cuts of real life circles from the natural world, sound technology and art. It is as exhaustingly frenetic as the music and works like a hypnotic spell to complement and pull you into the track. As the unrelenting drive of the guitars duel with the giant electro beats, the lyrics culminate in an extensive list including ‘…. criminals, dreamers, lovers and leaders…peacemakers, instigators and the non-believers…step right up, step right in…’ who would all be welcome to join ‘The Circle’…
There will be many more 2021 releases from this highly creative duo, who classify their music as ‘Electro-GrungeStep’…
Flaming June releases a new single, ahead of an album called ‘Hope in a Jar’ due in the autumn of 2021. From her lockdown attic songwriter Louise Eatock has carefully crafted a follow-up to her 2018 release ‘The Women’s Battalion’, a timely reminder of the historic struggle to improve the inequalities of the voting system one hundred years ago. Musically it was restless and urgent, with the powerful rhythm guitar duelling with the incisive violin from collaborator Alex Herring. That intensity and music combination carries into this new song; a fast paced likeable folk soundtrack to a very dark tale.
Daniel Dawson was hanged in 1812 in Cambridge (in front of a crowd of 12,000 people as it was market day in the city!?) for poisoning race horses at Newmarket. Louise’s lyrics tell the courtroom story and see Daniel as the scapegoat for unseen powerful figures ‘…just swallow down that bitter pill…I’m just one cheat among many…a little minnow plucked from the shallows…’ and concludes that ‘….he’s a lesson that we can learn from…’, with an undertone of resignation.
Transferring a wider issue into an individual case ‘protest song’ to give extra impact and make an issue more relatable is a little used but very effective song writing tool – Bob Dylan has a few including ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ and ‘Hurricane’ – now ‘The Ballad of Daniel Dawson’ joins the list and reminds us that many of these societal injustices and themes just keep repeating…
From the angst of the band name to the opening tension of the lyric,‘…tell me I been walking a thin line…and I’ll be towing it as soon as you say…’, R.J. Archer & The Painful Memories are back with a blistering burst of troubled blues rock. Last heard from on their self-titled EP from 2019 (reviewed below) featuring the edgy majesty of lead track ‘It’s Snowing In Hell’, this new release is a forerunner to their delayed debut long-player ‘Hot Mess’.
A punchy, up tempo cut from this Cambridge trio, ‘Who Am I Supposed To Love Now?’ is firmly rooted in the groove of the sort of cool and credible blues-infused record that would appear regularly and successfully in the pop charts of the late 1960s and 70s. It is a summary of lovelorn discontent set to sparse instrumentation, emotionally raw vocals and featuring twisty guitar links, a roving bassline and drums always on the verge of being fully unleashed. And, of course, all in less than three minutes…
A new single from Derby quartet The Bagatelles is a likeable slice of summery power pop, from the jumpy electric guitar line that is a welcome intervention throughout the song, to the wistful lyric evoking past times but always with a thoughtful optimism. This is set out in simple and affectionate terms in the middle eight, ‘….I want you and you want me with all the vulnerability….well take it slow though time goes fast…’. Musically the band deliver a crisp indie rock sound; full of light and shade and there is constantly something interesting to catch your attention.
I previously reviewed their 2019 single ‘Point Of View’ which was built around a simple echoing guitar figure and used the cosmic references to emphasise the emotion in the lyric, ‘…. you’re in my orbit girl and you’re voice I can’t help but listen…. I want to be your sun….I’ll be your galaxy…..’. It may have been heavily ironic or tinged with later regret but taken at face value it was straight to the heart, just like this new track.
The band are building up a catalogue of attractive songs and hopefully they will soon be able to cement their live reputation for immediacy and energy.
A track by track review of the debut LP from singer/songwriter Chloe Foy….
1.Where Shall We Begin. Setting the tone for the collection, an acoustic dreampop delight where the guitar shadows the vocal line. Gorgeous.
2.Deserve. A slow and longer meditation, peppered with restrained electric guitar, layers of vocal lines and gradual build up of atmosphere.
3.Work of Art. More tightly structured than some of the tracks, this compact pop song is driven by the insistent melody line; grounded by the bass, drums and empathetic guitar.
4.Evangeline. A definite favourite of mine, the musical triplets are joined by an endless selection of musical combinations as the stately melody serenely soars above with the sensual lyrics ‘…Evangeline…you are my queen I promise that I’ll keep you warm…’
5.Asylum. A prime example of the haunting-folk genre that Chloe inhabits, where the sonic textures of strings and harp complement the vocals perfectly, carefully arranged and produced by album collaborator Harry Fausing Smith.
6.Bones. Adrift on a becalmed sea, the rich vocal from Chloe is adorned by a dark and moody instrumental mix.
7.Shining Star. Uptempo, hypnotic and mysterious ‘…fears untold and false absolve be true to who you are…faster now, you’re dancing now…you’ll be my shining star…’
8.Left-Centred Weight. Previously released as a single this is a showcase for the smooth and mellow tones of Chloe’s voice as the languid strings emerge over the horizon and create a semi-orchestral extravaganza.
9.And It Goes. The longest track on the album, a free form late night jazzy-folk reverie with contrasting sections, unpredictable diversions and finally drifting off into the cosmos.
10.Square Face. Possibly saving the best till last, this is a timeless and traditional sounding folk melody over a reassuring background of strings and a waltzing piano. The unaccompanied vocal towards the end lingers long in the memory as an emotional representation of this superb album.
A new EP from UK country/Americana singer Lucy Grubb; her first since ‘Dear Walter’ in 2018.
1.Waste My Time. A lovely opening track, it is a mellow slice of hill country with an irrepressible momentum pushed along by intricate drumming, interleaving guitar and sustained and rich keyboard notes. Lucy’s vocal is lighter than air; effortlessly portraying the theme of dissatisfaction in the song ‘…I don’t possess the knowledge to read between your lines….don’t hold my hand….I won’t look back….’, before the instruments are giving a showcase at the end.
2.Other Side. A melodic ballad, full of longing especially in the catchy but thoughtful chorus ‘….what’s the weather like on your side?…’. With the Americana atmosphere and haunting middle-eight it is probably my favourite of the collection.
3.You Don’t Do Anything. The pace picks up again for this energetic romp, Lucy smoothly delivers her well-crafted lyric, always returning to the title line dismissal. Sounds like it would be a great crowd-pleaser in a live show.
4.When It Rains. A wistful finale, with a calm footstep tempo and plenty of wide open space in the musical arrangement. Lucy’s vocal leads strongly, supported by emotive harmonies and extra strings. Like the whole EP, it stays in the mind long after the gentle ending…
After months of secrecy and anticipation, the new Public Service Broadcasting album is announced for September and the first track is now released. ‘Bright Magic’ is themed around the city of Berlin, a spiritual home of electronica and other-worldly sounds. PSB are known for incisive use of sampled spoken words and revived archive recordings but their last album ‘Every Valley’ featured more conventionally structured songs and guest vocalists too.
This new track with the instruction of ‘People, Let’s Dance’ is a multi-layered blend of synths, 80s guitar interventions, super-deep bass and the driving drums that bring these masterful compositions to life. The extra bonus this time is the glacial warmth of the vocals from lyric writer EERA, the performing name of Norwegian singer Anna Lena Bruland. Singing and speaking mostly in German her voice overlaps, backs itself and is treated, echoed and integrated like another orchestra of instruments. The video features dancers roller skating around some of the bleaker industrial landscapes around the Thames in East London, adding to the overall hypnotic effect of this excellent track and the invitation translated as ‘…come, dance and lose yourself…’
A new EP from London quartet Bitch Hunt, following on from their split EP with adults in 2020, featuring the incisive ’23’ and the lo-fi high-concept pop art of ‘Spaceman’ (complete with fun video!)
Opener ‘Out of Eden’ is built around a descending chord sequence that arrives as if from a distant horizon before the arresting lyric sets the sombre tone ‘….under the apple tree…is where I was when he found me…’. The full four-piece sound is dissonant and disturbing to go with the implied subject matter but the music is punctuated with gentler interludes. ‘Identity Clinic’ is a punkier track and shows off the ability of the band to mix up the musical styles from distorted funk guitar under the catchy chorus to a sprawling instrumental workout at the end.
‘Eau Claire’ was previously released as a single and the companionship and water themes seem to carry an undercurrent of darkness, ‘…two died in the river that year…dull water…filled with parasites…’. It could be a companion track to cult classic ‘Next of Kin’ by indie dreamers Alvvays.
‘Shapeshifter’ is probably my favourite, a plaintively sung lyric, ‘….nice to meet you… sometimes I wish I could be you …sometimes I could eat you…’ as the guitar and bass lines quietly jump around. The drums and vocal harmonies control the dynamics of the song, until a short jazz influenced coda. Bonus track ‘I Wanna Be Un/Happy’ pulls many aspects of the band’s music together for a brooding and echoing finale, raising the noise level when the chorus kicks in.
This is a satisfying, energetic and thoughtful EP full of wit, warmth and wisdom.
‘Hide’ is a new single from Welsh singer/songwriter Shannon Hynes, following on from the seven song ‘Country Words’ collection back in 2020.
Earlier this year she released ‘Standing Me Up’, a smooth slice of up-tempo country-pop that motored along as Shannon’s vocal interweaved with a counterpoint violin line. The catchy chorus lodged in your head and the overall effect was a positive delight, with a thoughtful undertone in the words and music.
From the pensive and sparse keyboard introduction ‘Hide’ is a gentle anthem built around a heartbeat speed and a bold vocal performance of the stately melody. The verse sections have an atmosphere of quiet melancholy which is then contrasted in the retaliation of the chorus, ‘…you want to take me down but I won’t sink down low…’. A guitar line and drums add extra instrumental weight, then backing vocals echo the lead voice until the final fading away.
These two 2021 tracks show different sides of Shannon’s performance and songwriting; both are satisfyingly full of emotion and creativity.