Graywave : Planetary Shift, EP released April 2021

This is the compelling new EP from Birmingham singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Graywave, (the performing name of Jess Webberley) following a string of creative singles released since 2019.

1.Dreaming. With a relaxed introduction the vocal soon sails in, with the guitars then extracting every ounce from the gliding swoop between the two chords that most of the song is built around. The vocal is luxuriant and elated and the final minute coda when the band let loose is an extra gift.

2.Swallow. Deeper and darker from the outset, but resolving into the insistent and memorable chorus lines.

3.Planetary Shift. Dreamy, haunting centrepiece of the collection with the vocal washing up on the seashore of atmospheric guitar, white noise and piano. The song remains fluid and changing, coalescing into firmer structures then back into an amorphous mix. Probably my favourite track on the EP.

4.Like Heaven. Multiple layers of sound are wrenched from the decibel dense guitar as the drums languidly punctuate the pace. Jess’s vocal soars through the mix; deliberately not escaping but melding into the whole.

5.Before. This addresses the subject of anxiety in the lyric while musically building on a mysterious, echoing cyclical countermelody. This blends with a percussive pattern that starts and stops like an expiring heartbeat. The final minute is a rich explosion of sound; this track crams volumes of emotion and highly charged dynamics into its short run time.

Graywave | Facebook

Artist Roster – (indiemidlands.co.uk)

Louise Parker : Living in Silver Linings, LP released April 2021

The debut album from talented UK country singer/songwriter Louise Parker opens with ‘Rear View Mirror’, one of four tracks ‘re-imagined’ from previous releases, in this case expanded from the original acoustic version to a full band rocker, radiating fun and energy. ‘Should’ve, Could’ve, Will’ rolls along with a counterpoint violin in the mix and an assertive message ‘…..and I’m not moving backwards so I might as well focus on where I’m going instead….and next time I will be strong and tell you no….’ then the emotional heft of ‘Lie To Me’ features some gospel chord styling and a vocal giving heartfelt regret to lines like ‘….and I’ll leave your side of the bed made, just in case you come back one day…..’.

The duet with Joey Clarkson ‘If You Want Me To’ is a gorgeous light-touch pop song full of delicate harmonies and definitely one of the highlights of the collection, along with the strong melodic statement of ‘Story of Love’. There is a change of pace for the reflections of ‘I’m Moving to Nashville’, where the narrator finds all is not as expected ‘….there was no gold at the end of rainbow…just people pulling strings at a grandiose puppet show….it’s about who you know, not what you know…..’ before the country pop positivity of ‘Just Friends’ restores the relaxed mood.

I like the way this album is full of style changes and surprises; the voice and piano introduction of ‘Paradise’ moves seamlessly into the full band treatment with Louise’s light and shade vocal powerhouse pushing all before it (and special bonus playout section on the CD version!). It is a rewarding finale to this rich collection of songs.

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Collars : Hey Lizzie, Lay It On Me, single released 23 April 2021

On previous single ‘Heart Beat’, Collars created an instantly likeable track, fashioned from minimal instrumentation, a scant regard for time signature discipline and plenty of sonic surprises including an organ solo and the mellifluous vocal that playfully rolls around the melody.

Now this indiepop duo from Cambridgeshire have mixed in many extra elements at their isolated home studio in the Fens, making their sound slightly more claustrophobic with an undercurrent of nervous tension for the conversational lyric of ‘Hey Lizzie, Lay It On Me’.

Driven along by a choppy guitar with some lush synthesiser interruptions this uncluttered DIY live music experience feels like it could be in your living room with you, as of course it is in the accompanying video…

(This is a release from a forthcoming EP ‘Everything Present 1’, hopefully to be showcased at The Blue Moon in Cambridge on 31st July 2021)

Live — COLLARS (collarstheband.com)

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Oliver Beardmore : With The Heavens On Your Side (You), single released April 2021

Olive Beardmore is a multi-talented singer/songwriter from Birmingham, who started releasing music in 2017. Earlier tracks were untreated indiepop gems, especially the collision of words and staccato guitars on ‘Sirens’. There was the wistful six minute balladry of ‘Jumpers For Goalposts’, before the dreamier territory of ‘Fiesta’ in 2020 featuring a video full of disconnection, ambiguous glances and hazy backgrounds. This impressively frames this fine song to great effect, with the restrained verses and big waterfall of guitar that engulfs the choruses.

Now ‘With The Heavens On Your Side (You)’, Oliver has stayed in that partial dream world, this time upping the pace and creating a rich production that shimmers and echoes, giving the track a bright and crisp veneer, including a surprise guitar solo.

The vocal delivery is a winner, blending fully into the spectrum of the other instruments but always leading the track. Resolving into the key lines ‘…because its you and I always knew…’ the chorus sounds genuine and celebratory, a bit reminiscent of some of the popgold moments of early Keane singles.

Oliver Beardmore | Facebook

Artist Roster – (indiemidlands.co.uk)

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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)