Emzae : Thrive, single released 31 July 2020

A welcome new release from Midlands based singer/songwriter/instrumentalist emzae.

She is a performer who never repeats herself and continues to push at the creative edges of electronic pop. She always has one eye on contemporary musical textures and lyrical themes, realising that the strongest statements come out of real life experiences.

From the pensive insights of ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ to the taut musical flexings of ‘As This Day Fades to Another’ and the most recent concise pop bite of ‘Waste Our Time’ her recent succession of singles maintain a high standard of content, brought to sparkling life by her self-production skills and attention to detail.

The words on this new track reflects the time when emzae realised the importance of being yourself, instead of endless circling to fit in with peers and the social difficulties that can arise. Also that maybe sometimes it is best to just have a dance and not worry too much.

Certainly this is a track to move to; it draws heavily on some retro-classic influences; from the minimalist electro grooves of the first Madonna album and the gloriously meandering funky keyboard bass that recalls some of Stevie Wonder’s early experimentation with deep and punchy synthesiser lines way back in the early seventies.

Add lots of immaculately timed clicks and beats, a winning vocal embellished with spoken voice and distant responses and a killer chorus line ‘…this is what it feels like to be free…’. Wrap this in a smooth sonic veneer and weave into a perfect song structure and you have her sharpest three minutes so far.

https://emzaemusic.com/about

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Order Of The Toad : Lady’s Mantle, single released July 2020

Order Of The Toad are a Three-Piece Indie Alternative Psych/Pop Band from Glasgow, due to release their second album in the autumn.

For this new song the title refers to the herb Lady’s Mantle or Alchemilla Mollis – it allegedly has good anti-inflammatory powers and also according to a gardener friend of the band “…the drops are supposed to have all sorts of magical properties including turning ordinary metals into gold..”.

That is another contribution to the mythology of the song; it is a track that taps into that late 60s period of psychedelia when a song could draw on baroque or medieval instrumentation in its influences, take a lyrical idea from Tolkein, nature or hallucination, end up at Number 2 in the charts and it all seem perfectly normal.
Like Syd Barrett’s early Pink Floyd contributions there is often an inbuilt timelessness too.

‘Lady’s Mantle’ moves along at a spirited pace, driven by the pulsing rhythm of acoustic guitar that throws some flamenco flourishes and lines into the mix too. The vocal tour de force is from Gemma Fleet (also of The Wharves), sounding like solo, multivoice and harmony all at once. The song is a neat balance of sinister and pop and has that addictive but slightly unnerving quality of the best psyche sounds (as does the accompanying video, which appears to feature a singing orange…)

https://www.facebook.com/orderofthetoad
https://recklessyes.com/
http://www.gringorecords.com/
 

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Bob Dylan : Rough and Rowdy Ways, LP released June 2020

A track by track review of the new album from Bob Dylan, his first collection of original material since 2012.

1. I Contain Multitudes.
Pre-released as a single, over an almost ambient acoustic backing this time spanning meditation places the narrator in the midst of cultural icons and emotional experiences. It would be a central track on a lesser album; here it is one of many major highlights. The line ‘…I play Beethoven sonatas Chopin’s preludes…I contain multitudes…’ could only be rhymed and delivered by Dylan.

2. False Prophet. The tracks on this LP are long, even this loud languid loose but edgy blues clocks in at six minutes. Its like a cut up script for a mythical western, packed with restless one-liners ‘…don’t care what I drink – don’t care what I eat…I climbed a mountain of swords on my bare feet..’

3. My Own Version of You. Gothic and comic, the descending chord sequence cascades calmly as a tale of creating an ideal being is laced with name checking, ‘…..I’m gonna make you play the piano like Leon Russell… like Liberace…like St. John the Apostle….’ then encompassing a circle of history and philosophy. An excellent track on first listen then it gets better.

4. I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You. Set to a stately but subtle classical waltz theme this is an unassumingly gorgeous love song. For fans of ‘Make You Feel My Love’ from 1997’s ‘Time Out Of Mind’.

5. Black Rider. A gentle but dark interlude; a jazz guitar chord rolls across the start of each bar as Dylan sings homage, fear and redemption to the title character.

6. Goodbye Jimmy Reed. A bar-room brawl twelve-bar celebrating the influential bluesman (1925-76). Good to hear some harmonica in there too.

7. Mother of Muses. Stately and thoughtful, describing mythology and music history as the narrator draws multiple inspirations before the poignant ending ‘… got a mind to ramble – got a mind to roam….I’m travelin’ light and I’m slow coming home….’

8. Crossing the Rubicon.
Like the opening line of a novel, Dylan pulls the listener in with ‘….I crossed the Rubicon on the 14th day of the most dangerous month of the year….at the worst time at the worst place…’ followed by seven minutes of searing guitar-led but still mellow backing and every verse ending with the title phrase. It is an effective lyrical device, echoing the classic ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’.

9. Key West (Philosopher Pirate). Another lengthy musing, a cryptic travelogue featuring a sleepy accordion and some of the most evocative descriptions on the album, ‘….people tell me that I’m truly blessed…bougainvillea bloomin’ in the summer and spring…winter here is an unknown thing….’

10. Murder Most Foul. This too was pre-released as a single(!) and it is granted a whole extra CD on the album release.
The track is a detailed news description of the assassination of JFK ‘…Zapruder’s film, I’ve seen that before…seen it thirty three times, maybe more…it’s vile and deceitful – it’s cruel and it’s mean…ugliest thing that you ever have seen…they killed him once, they killed him twice…killed him like a human sacrifice..’ weaved through with a celebrity cast, cultural touchstones and influences of the 60s and beyond.
It is a towering achievement; the dense tapestry of words and ideas needs to be savoured at length to be fully appreciated.

http://www.bobdylan.com
 

Bugeye : Ready Steady Bang, LP released July 2020

Following some single releases over the last few months the debut album from London quartet Bugeye arrives…

Opener ‘On And On’ is a disco stomper, spiked with punky edges and although filled with synth swathes it still sounds organic and played live by the band. ‘Breakdown’ has the desperate vocal and staccato rhythms of an early 80s misfit chart song. ‘Shake and Bake’ is enhanced by a sliding keyboard figure, a shouting title line chorus and a psychedelic ‘theremin’ sound somewhere in the mix.

The concise ‘Blue Fire’ has stealthy superdeep bass and sinister overtones and lodges firmly in the brain. Some albums may be running out of steam by this point but ‘When The Lights Go Out’ keeps the energy level up with a banging chorus and rock and roll piano to push the rhythm along then the track evolves into an instrumental electronic spectacular near the end.

I am usually drawn to calendar list songs (…Friday I’m In Love…Manic Monday….) so ‘Sunday Monday’ is immediately interesting with its work-life balance over some great drumming, duelling guitar and a constantly varying backing.

And still four more tracks, including ‘Electric’ a previously released perfectly constructed pop single and a great vocal powerhouse performance on ‘Nightlife’ and ‘Don’t Stop’

Definitely a band to catch live when the time comes – the ten tracks on this LP would form a rich and juicy setlist….

https://www.bugeyeband.co.uk/
https://recklessyes.com/

The Magpies : Tidings, LP released June 2020

A track by track review of ‘Tidings’, the debut LP from contemporary folk quartet The Magpies. Formed in York in 2017, with four vocalists and many different stringed instruments they have drawn together influences and styles to create a rich and rewarding sound.

1. Two Magicians. A traditional song with a lyric describing the sensual shape-shifting antics of the lady and the blacksmith. Mandolin and fiddle weave sinuously around the warm vocal.

2. Catharsis. The instrumental dexterity of the first track goes straight into this gorgeous fast-paced workout. Great production and mix, the band sound like they are in your front room.

3. Run River Run. A considered meditation on the flowing of the river and the passing of time as a resolution for problems. The mid-song instrumental break is sublime.

4. Rock of Ages. A cover of Gillian Welch’s spiritual anthem, showing how the band blend aspects of americana into their sound. Hypnotic and stunningly effective.

5. Foss Island. The violin double-stopping of the introduction gives way to an instrumental that is lighter than air and makes the island of the title sound like the perfect place to be (although it seems to be an inland area near York?). The theme inverts into variations with intricate structures as the track continues.

6. No More Tears.
The expression of emotion is beautifully concise here as the banjo, guitar, violin and cello gently contribute, dusted with harmony vocals and infused with the fragile atmosphere of a forgotten Woody Guthrie song.

7. Shuffle Set.
It is a nicely structured collection, just when you are haunted by the previous track there is instant uplift from the synchronised playing and sparkling solos on this traditional whole band showcase.

8. Galway Shawl.
The longest track on the album, it is nearly seven minutes to develop the languid and mellow feeling of this song, well known in the folk world. It is a tale of a chance meeting filled with poetic details including naming of other songs within the narrative and the repeating motif of the title garment; the descriptions are brought to life by a super vocal performance and complex layering of the instruments. Entrancing and beguiling.

9. Golden Girl. An air of mystery pervades this track, a ghostly story with of course a sad end. The violin shares the counter melody over the brooding chord sequence in this dark but affecting track.

10. Balls To The Wall. An exotic and unpredictable instrumental spectacular, with bouzouki patterns, speed changes and handclaps interweaved with folk dance tempos. An explosive finale to this excellent album.

https://www.themagpiesmusic.com/
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Victorian Tin : Chagall, single released June 2020

Swedish duo Victorian Tin began making music several years ago and now have renewed recording, beginning with ‘Silver and Perfume’, included on a compilation and reviewed on this site as ‘….strangely addictive, with shades of 80s cult popsters Japan as it features roving bass slidings and a world-weary vocal….’.

The newly reworked single ‘Chagall’ is named after the twentieth century Russian-French artist, famous for his colourful, dreamlike imagery. His reproductions have featured in many carefully planned living spaces ever since his death in 1985. While superficially of the mainstream, the images still have an unnerving quality and their otherworldliness is also reflected in the name of the band and this track, especially the slightly dissonant string quartet introduction.

The pace picks up as the rest of the instruments push the the song along, driven by the rhythm of an acoustic guitar. The lyric describes an encounter with a painting  (‘Over The Town’) depicting ‘….a man and a woman flying or escaping in the sky and she is blue he is green…’ then the musings become more sinister ‘…and you slept here in my grave…when was it…in another time?….’. An echoing piano joins the mysterious party as the narrator becomes lost in his world of the picture.

It is an attractive and enigmatic track, a prelude to a four track EP due later this year…

https://www.facebook.com/Victorian-Tin-114189660008927/
https://www.facebook.com/everlastingrecords
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/11/30/various-artists-the-sounds-your-dreams-make-lp-released-november-2019/

Over the town, 1918 - Marc Chagall - WikiArt.org

Malena Zavala : La Yarará (Live at Studio 2), single released June 2020

This is a new version of La Yarará by Malena Zavala; it was the title track on her second album released earlier this year but this is an as-live studio recording cut at the legendary Abbey Road studios. The singer is based in London but draws on her Argentinian roots, she describes herself as being influenced by many sub genres; Cumbia, Afro-Cuban, Afro-funk, Andean folk, Argentine folk, bolero-son, and for this track, ‘reggaeton’ which is a music style originating in Puerto Rico during the late 1990s.

From the mysterious ascending keyboard in the introduction before the full band effortlessly join in the party it is a sinous, flowing track which evokes the image of the serpent of the title. As well as Malena’s sparkling voice the percussion and unadorned drums are crucial to the essence of the song and a spectacular trumpet solo appears from nowhere and nearly steals the show at the end as it duels with the graceful electric guitar lines.

I saw Malena and her band at the Blue Moon in Cambridge last year (see review below) so this is a reminder for me of an excellent show which has stayed in my memory…

https://www.malenazavala.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/04/28/malena-zavala-blue-moon-cambridge-25-april-2019/

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Ward Thomas : The Space Between, EP released June 2020

A new EP from UK country-pop duo Ward Thomas, collecting together some recently pre-released songs and a new gem…

1. Hold Space. As reviewed on this site previously ‘… a well balanced union of a melody that holds the song without over-elaborate instrumentation and of course features the sisters’ sparkling harmonies. A straightforward lyric makes the point very effectively as it describes how to be there for someone who may be struggling emotionally…’

2. Someone to Someone. In many ways this is a low key and mellow EP, with an emphasis on acoustic instruments and the controlled expressive power of the vocals to deliver the thoughtful musings. Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas are joined on this track by acclaimed singer/songwriter Dan Owen, trading lines and sharing harmonies before building up to the big chorus.

3. Landslide. I have heard many live covers of ‘Dreams’ in recent years but in my opinion this is a superior song from Fleetwood Mac’s 70s heyday. This jewel is a stunning version; vulnerable and melancholic with harmonies that pull every essence of emotion from the lyric and leave the listener overwhelmed. Gorgeous.

4. Painted Legacy. After being turned inside out by the poignant mood of the previous track, this is another subtly restrained but very moving piece. The words express both a specific and generalised meditation on losing a loved one and how their whole life can have so much impact.
It is a lovely gentle melody interweaving with choice lyrical phrases ‘….brings alive my memories of how you spun pure gold out of the dust… I can’t bear to see you go somewhere far where I can’t follow….’. Concise and unhurried this fine song brings the brilliant EP to an end.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.danowenmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

 

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Love Ssega : Celebration, LP released June 2020

A track by track review of the new album ‘Celebration’ by singer/songwriter Love Ssega. I saw him play live in 2017 (see review below), it was a stripped back performance with just jazzy guitar accompaniment but immediately connecting strongly with the audience.

1. Celebration (No Bad News). A polyrhythmic and funky groove with a dissonant edgy backing and a wide-ranging vocal performance. A bold, unrelenting introduction to the collection.

2. Bring the Water. Raising the tempo for this sharply constructed song with the voice jousting and weaving against a neat jumpy bass pattern and intricate percussion.

3. Find Another Way. Mellow marimba and an insistent drum figure provides a smooth platform for a emotive lyric, always leading back into the title line chorus. A great pop song and definitely one of the many highlights on this LP.

4. Rich Forever.
Not the most immediate track on the album but definitely a grower, instruments and extra voices drift in out and through the mix underneath the vivid and strong central vocal performance.

5. Solutions. As the staccato electronica backing oscillates between pairs of chords the narrator ‘…wants solutions…’ but the track builds up and it seems that this of course is left unresolved…

6. Automation. More electronic keyboard pulses and rhythms with the biggest and catchiest hookline on the LP, as the lyric reflects on dehumanisation and the future, ‘…tell your people you love them, not technology….’. I think an early version of this was in the set when I saw him back in 2017, it is a powerful song and sentiment and probably my favourite track on the album.

7. Save Me. Another track where the adept playing and production enhance and fully realise the musical and lyrical ideas. Driven by bass and drums and an excellent vocal the soulful groove is a satisfying end to album.

https://www.lovessega.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/09/05/mary-epworth-norwich-arts-centre-2-september-2017/
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Sunflower Thieves : Hide And Seek, single released 29 May 2020

‘Hide and Seek’, is the excellent new song from Leeds Indie folk duo Sunflower Thieves.

Debut single ‘Two Halves’ was a mellow introduction to their work, with a meditative verse giving way to the catchy chorus featuring their spot-on harmony vocals. Follow-up ‘Heavy Weight’ had a distinct melancholy threading through the descending chord sequence and carefully crafted melody and meditative lyrics ‘….what would you do if all the streetlights burned out?…’ resolving into ‘….restlessly waiting for a train….to take away your heavy weight…’.

The band perform live with just acoustic guitar and their luminous vocals but this new track allows other instruments and extra voices to drift in and out, adding subtle multi-layers to the mix. The overall effect is laid back, atmospheric and as summery a sound as you could want. It is a warm and comfortable lyric, evoking reminiscence of younger, less complicated days ‘…..falling asleep in the back of your car… hoping you’ll carry me up to my room…’ , feelings so good that ‘….I don’t want this to end…’.
It is definitely a track to fully immerse yourself in.

This is their third single and you can find other high-quality tracks on YouTube and various radio shows too if you do some searching…

 

https://www.facebook.com/sunflowerthieves/

sunflower theives hide and seek artwork