Public Service Broadcasting : People, Let’s Dance [ft. EERA], single released June 2021

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…’

Public Service Broadcasting

EERA

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Bitch Hunt : Shapeshifter, EP released 28 May 2021

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.

Bitch Hunt | Facebook

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Shannon Hynes : Hide, single released May 2021

‘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.

HOME | Shannon Hynes

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Emma Houton : The Bath, LP released 21 May 2021

This new album is an impressive achievement, originally conceived as pieces for eight voices performing live, New Yorker Emma Houton has recorded it all by multi-tracking her voice and electronic loops to form collages of sound that seem out of this world.

The opening ‘Candle for the Holy Ghost’ uses sustained vocal notes and the subtlest of keyboard to set the tone for the rest of the disc. ‘Watershed’ was a pre-released single and the ethereal atmosphere becomes more layered with a clearer leading vocal.

‘Idumea’ is a biblical land area of unsure boundaries and the nine minutes of the track oscillates and harmonises to hypnotic effect. The other long-form track ‘Bow and Balance’ showcases Emma’s relaxed but powerful vocal qualities, with a murder-ballad tale of two sisters in love with the same man that of course doesn’t end well. ‘Gemini’ soundtracks the endless distances and times of the cosmos before ‘Waiting’ also illustrates the music of the celestial spheres.

As ‘Going Home’ concludes the album you realise that this is an empathetic backing to calm and relaxed movement through a hectic world.

emma nicole houton (emmahouton.com)

Trapped Animal Records | UK Based Independent Indie Record Label Emma Houton – The Bath – Trapped Animal Records

Katie Spencer : Hurt In Your Heart, EP released April 2021

Like the revered Nick Drake, the musical legacy of John Martyn grows in stature, none more so than the mid-period emotional landscapes of albums ‘One World’ (1977) and the extraordinary ‘Grace And Danger’ (1980). Singer/songwriter/guitarist Katie Spencer has collaborated with two members of Martyn’s band (Alan Thomson and Spencer Cozens) for this trio of tracks.

Lead song ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ builds an atmosphere around the stately descending chord sequence using a waterfall of piano, fretless bass and the warm tones of effects-drenched guitar. Katie’s voice weaves through the ethereal delight and endlessly beguiles the listener.

‘Couldn’t Love You More’ is not just one of the best JM tracks, it is one of the best love songs ever written. The tidal flow of the original’s time signature has been adapted to a gentle waltz in this gorgeous version and Katie has captured the spirit of the lyric which I always thought concealed a yearning and loss beneath the surface sentiments.

The concluding extended jazz-ambience of ‘Small Hours’ takes time to create the mellow platform for the brief but effective vocal. Martyn never achieved the recognition he deserved before his death in 2009, but this empathetic collection helps to keep his music alive.

HOME | Katie Spencer

John Martyn – Official website of the maverick singer and songwriter

Bryony Williams : Growing/Fading, EP released May 2021

A highly regarded performer at shows around the West Midlands, Bryony Williams now releases a re-imagining of some of her earlier work – opening with ‘Little Tree’, a song described as ‘….a reminder that everything is temporary, including your current self….’. That may be a downbeat concept to address, but nevertheless this is a life-affirming, celebratory folk-rock piece with layers of insistently rhythmic guitar, sparkling drums and a sensuous vocal performance that brings the lyric fully to life.

The words place the narrator and us in a continuing circle of eco-life ‘…as the Earth turns….’, ‘…..little tree springs forth from little seeds…’ and similar sentiments are thoughtfully described and subtly delivered, especially when the instrumentation slows and quietens during the chorus. It is an excellent track, the richness and depth increasing with each listen.

The short ambient/spoken atmospheric rush of ‘Tell Me’ links to ‘Silhouette’. Strangely soothing, this is a dark and moody piece about the end of a relationship. The poignant verses resolve into a strong chorus line as the gathering storm of dissonant guitar and synths build, despite a deceptively playful guitar figure floating above and appearing to mark the passing of time.

It is a contrast to the lead track so the package presents itself musically as a retro double ‘A- side’ single, along with a new long-form video due to be premiered soon….

Bryony Williams – “Growing/Fading” // Little Tree + Tell Me + Silhouette – YouTube

(2) Bryony Williams | Facebook

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Fightmilk : Contender, LP released 14 May 2021

Frequently reviewed on this site, roisterous London powerpunks Fightmilk release their sparkling new album….

Lucky Coin : After a brief linking introduction this track means business, as the mix melds the band together into a sharp backing for a post break-up tale of uncertainty ‘….yes I’m building something new…..and I’m a lucky coin, I just flip myself back over…’

Hey Annabelle! : An underused name in pop songs, this was a pre-released single and another energetic burst of pop delight with an edge ‘….Annabelle if you see her, can you check if anybody is there….please don’t make it too obvious because I definitely don’t care…’

I’m Starting to Think You Don’t Ever Want To Go Into Space : full review here

The Absolute State Of Me : A lyric of self-doubt inhabits the 1970s sounding production of this gleaming pop gem, which could be my favourite track on the LP. Savour the middle eight ‘….you’d look just like your picture…I wouldn’t be so useless…’ and the lively instrumental playout.

Girls Don’t Want to Have Fun : This is the more pensive side of Fightmilk, with the addition of strings, keys and drum machine sounds to create a platform for some surreal imagery in Lily’s vocal ‘…..when we talk about dying it feels like a pipe dream….
I can be your guinea pig baby…. I can make you like me….’

Cool Cool Girl : Recalling the quartet’s early EPs this is a mighty powerpop explosion with a wittily acerbic lyric delivered with conviction, great answering vocal backing from the band and a killer chorus.

Banger #4 : Drum driven spectacular, with full-on adventurous bass lines and molten guitar lines duelling with a big vocal, all adding up to the accurate description of the title.

If You Had a Sister… : full review here

You Are Not the Universe : Another character dissection, gradually building in lyrical complexity until the pay-off of ‘…the plays unread…the script is unrehearsed….but you’ve made your bed and you are not the universe…’

Maybe : With some instrumental link sections as brief respite this album does not lose forward momentum, even after the calmer acoustic introduction this track becomes another punchy anthem with a playful but lingering short phrase melody line that flawlessly hits the spot.

Overbite : This is a classy pre-released single, complete with animated video and distilling many of the elements of the band into the perfect blend. Over the dynamite bass line the lyric weaves a clever obsessional spell summed up in the chorus ‘….I think you’re cool….I like your overbite…’.

Long awaited and anticipated, Fightmilk have delivered another excellent collection of noisy pop gold.

Fightmilk – Home | Facebook

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Fightmilk : Not With That Attitude, LP released November 2018 | cambridgemusicreviews

Fightmilk : Both Types Of Hayfever (EP Collection), released May 2018 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Such Small Hands : Carousel – Raw Home Sessions, LP released May 2021

A re-imagining of the Such Small Hands (singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Melanie Howard) release from September last year, now featuring just voice and guitar. Packaged as a limited CD edition of 150, each in a unique hand-painted sleeve to hold the precious cargo of these ethereal songs.

The original versions had the extra dimensions of changing keyboard and vocal treatments but on this new album the guitar sets a distinctive tone for each track. There are the gently strummed chords for the unhurried opening meditation of ‘Lonely Is The Rain’, followed by the hypnotic triplets throughout ‘Do I Belong Here?’ and the fast walking urgency of the steps in ‘Drifter’.

In all of the tracks it is Melanie’s voice that is the key; listen to the vocal performance on the timeless waltz of ‘O Patient One’, it is like the gentle unwinding of a silk thread. Sometimes extra harmonies augment the raw recording – used to great effect on the counterpoint chorus of ‘Electric Touch’ and the waterfall of music and voices of ‘Why Am I Like This?’.

Title track ‘Carousel’ retains the otherworldly atmosphere of the original in this sparsely layered version while ‘Anhedonia’ is starkly beautiful. Bonus track ‘Ghost’ sinuously brings the gorgeous collection to a graceful end.

Such Small Hands | Facebook

Carousel : Raw Home Sessions | Such Small Hands (bandcamp.com)

Such Small Hands : Carousel, LP released 18 September 2020 | cambridgemusicreviews

The Harriets : A Little Something, EP released 7 May 2021

A rewarding new EP from Leeds based The Harriets, the follow up to their 2021 album ‘Hopefuls’, reviewed here

1.Little Something. This timeless and catchy pop single immediately draws you into the band’s world, where the songs are so intricate and carefully layered that they fold in on themselves with ambiguity and nuance, ‘…I’ll write whatever you like….inspired by the things that you like….you only have to say the word…..the stars will come out of the sky….’. The uncluttered musical arrangement elegantly carries the track along.

2. Days Like These. Probably my favourite on the EP, the lush piano and strings orchestration is the platform for an outstanding ballad. The reflective nostalgia of the vocal subliminally interweaves aspects of Lou Reed’s namechecked ‘Perfect Day’ to gorgeous effect.

3. The Lie. Like an excerpt from a low-key stage musical this is a conversational interlude with a loose and intimate jazz tone, built around a recurring piano line.

4. Jessie’s Song. Led by semi-grandiose piano, this is a strangely addictive song, like track one it self referential about the songwriting art ‘…and the words all come out wrong that I have penned…why should I carry on and why pretend…’. The two voices trade harmonies and viewpoints giving spontaneity and surprise all the way through.

5. For You. In contrast to some of the musical flourishes of previous tracks this starts off as a simple and joyous love song ‘….last night you were on my mind….like you are all the time…’ before an extended playout featuring horns, piano, taut drums and percussion, vocal chorus and a guitar solo. All crammed into four minutes it is a rich and satisfying manifesto for the many facets of the band.

Home – The Harriets (theharrietsband.com)

Knomad Spock : Winter Of Discontent, LP released May 2021

This is the debut album from musician/songwriter Knomad Spock, interweaving influences from folk scenes across the world, combining with spoken word poetry, found sounds and a vocal style that complements the genre fluid music of the ten tracks.

To get an idea of the scope of the album listen to opener ‘Papillon’ as you watch the accompanying video of deserted post-industrial London buildings. The song is easy-paced and mellow, the sparse instruments weaving around the main bass note before a new musical section heralds the yearning of repeated lines ‘….if we can make it through the winter….if we can make it through the storm…’. Contrast this minor epic with the pastoral springtime optimism of ‘Gift’. The video is as refreshing as the mandolin that shines through on this timeless and airy folk.

The urgency and abrupt percussion of ‘Egypt’ is countered by the gentle, haunting swing of ‘Spirit Level’ and the longer free-form part whispered meditation of ‘Know’. Just when you think the collection is moving into ambience and dreamier territory the unpredictable ‘Poles’ breaks all the genre rules. The Dylanesque opening falls apart after key lyric ‘…and the oceans laughed when she said I can swallow you whole…and I’m in the middle…’ and turns into a wandering dissonance of orchestral sounds and wayward vocals.

After that shining avant-garde diversion the album plays out with more surprises; first the time bending symphonic fireworks after the fuse-burning introduction of ‘Ballad’ and then the final evocation and reminiscence in the spoken word, piano and natural sounds of ‘Maps’, bringing this creatively rich collection to a close and staying in the listener’s mind for long after.

Knomad Spock (bandcamp.com)

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In Conversation: Knomad Spock “If you can’t have compassion for someone else, you can’t have compassion for yourself”