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

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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)

The Crystal Furs : Beautiful and True, LP released 2 April 2021

Originally a low-key release last year, the third LP from US trio The Crystal Furs now gets a wider vinyl distribution in the UK.

From the opening tones of the Farfisa organ on ‘Comeback Girls’ the lo-fi indiepop shines through, with jangly guitars, unassuming instrumental breaks and a naturalistic production that puts the Furs right there in the room with you. The band sound is also encapsulated in the minor epic of ‘Expo 67’, opening with the strangely inviting line ‘…we built a home of concrete bones…’, full of melancholy in the verses before the catchy chorus. Lead vocalist Steph Buchanan keeps herself carefully placed in the mix, making the band sound as one cohesive entity.

‘Too Kind To Be Cruel’ is a compact pop song with a yearning melody and some well-honed rhymes ‘…write the things you’ll say to me …engaging in so much hyperbole…‘, while ‘Burn Us Down’ rocks hard; ‘….you wanna cure me, you wanna fix me I wanna kick you to the curb…’ and is probably my favourite on the album.

Over the twelve tracks (and an extra set of mono remixes on the digital album!) The Crystal Furs clearly sound like they are having fun in their music, as summarised in the final track ‘Second Time Around’, ‘…..join a band and play guitar… and play it loud it isn’t hard…‘ This is a lyrically dense album too, full of themes, ideas, reflections and social comment and not afraid to give these carefully crafted songs the time to breathe and develop.

The Crystal Furs

Reckless Yes – An ethical and independent record label

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Gold Baby : Rabbits, EP released 26 March 2021

A new EP of indie light and shade from talented London trio Gold Baby, following on from a creative string of singles over the last couple of years.

1.Bodie Serene, shimmering guitar drives this track as the vocal from songwriter Siân cajoles and soars. The overall feeling seems to be one of alienation and disappointment but it is all beautifully done.

2. 2041 The quiet, agitated introduction and verses make you want to decode what is going on in this track ‘…there’s a man screaming in the hallway…and I can’t hear myself think…’ but when it gives way to a very noisy chorus you are carried along anyway.

3. Betty Previously released as a single this is a strange mixture of fantasy imagery with a sinister undertone ‘….let me tell you what happened…somebody ate my mother’s lipstick…somebody tried to read my palm….somebody called me….Cinderella so I hit the fire alarm….’. Musically the song structure pulls you in with its dramatic flourishes and winning melody lines.

4. Captain Dorego My favourite track on the collection, lyrical dreams to escape into ‘….carp fishing maybe bass…out of the stream ourselves at last…as idyllic as it seems….’ sit alongside darker thoughts ‘….can I sing in the small church choir…..fill it up with gasoline….light a match and wait for you to scream…’. It is a delicate treat, the words floats above gentle guitar with bass and drums that handle the poly-rhythmic backing perfectly. The song has its own dance too (see video link below)….

Gold Baby – Captain Dorego – YouTube

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Rosey Cale : Breathing Fire, EP released 18 March 2021

A new EP from Welsh alt-country singer Rosey Cale showcases her range of writing and performing styles across four excellent tracks.

1.Mary Jane. An anthemic full band rocker, with an assertive vocal lead, driven by a raw descending chord sequence to echo the resentment and anguish in the lyric, ‘….it’s eleven thirty two he’s still not home….he’s a cheater…’. Playing out with an abrasive guitar solo it is a strong opener.

2.Breathing Fire. To reflect the title this is another big blast of country rock, with more acerbic observational lyrics ‘…you walk in the room think everyone is after you…but you don’t see that everyone is rolling their eyes to your lies…’. The drums and organ fill in the sonic textures before the hypnotic ‘….you took, you stole…‘ refrain builds up to a grand finish.

3.Secrets. Gentle acoustic guitar heralds this folk-influenced ballad. Rosey imbues the timeless melody with authentic emotional resonance,‘…if I could take all of this pain from you I would…’. A subtle and gorgeous highlight of the EP.

4.Keeper. Rosey has previously recorded a Welsh version of this mid-tempo track (‘Ceidwad’) and whatever the language the optimism and spirit of the song shine through, riding on a poppy tune and addictive hookline. The lead slide guitar line duels and interweaves to great effect with the memorable vocal.

ROSEY CALE – Home

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Film Review of ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’, BBC4, 16 March 2021

Another in-depth TV treat for the music obsessive, following the recent broadcast of ‘King Rocker’, chronicling punk legends The Nightingales.

With Julian Temple at the creative and directing helm, ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’ is an informative, romanticized, warm, irreverent and funny trip through the career of the Pogues frontman, with interviews, live performances, animations, TV appearances and Irish history. The two hour running time allowed for a huge supporting cast orbiting around the music and cultural influences of Shane; from Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats to Joe Strummer and Johnny Depp. Family members and friends provided extra insight but in the end it was the music clips and comments from Shane that were the key.

Shane MacGowan seemed to have been filmed in the front row at numerous London gigs in the late 70s for the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, noticed by the NME as ‘the face of ’77’. These appearances were followed by many recordings of the early Pogues shows, encapsulating their electricity and commitment to re-energising traditional Irish music.

Many of their best songs featured; ‘Streams Of Whiskey’, ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’, ‘Sally MacLennane’ and of course ‘Fairytale of New York’ also had to be there, particularly serving as a reminder of the talent of Kirsty MacColl. The sentimentality of ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’ is probably a superior song and their brilliant cover of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ was juxtaposed with a liner leaving for the US, one of many references to the Irish diaspora.

Shane described the intensity of success when the band’s fame led at one point to 364 shows in one year, causing health problems and ending with him leaving the band in 1991, (though there were reunion shows from 2001 onward). With excerpts from his 60th birthday tribute show, this very watchable film left a lasting impression.

Shane MacGowan – Official Website

The Pogues, Thetford Forest, 14 June 2014 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Hannah Rose Kessler : My Theories On The Apocalypse, EP released 19 March 2021

Packed full of ideas lyrically and musically, UK singer songwriter Hannah Rose Kessler releases her new EP.

‘Don’t Worry’ starts with an acoustic loosening up then bursts into a pulsing chord rhythm over sparse drums. The opening line is like it is from a novel that you know you will keep reading ‘…my hands they melt away into the background…I follow you into the trees…‘ As expressive guitar patterns come and go the double vocal of Hannah leads us along a sinister path lyrically ‘….don’t worry my dear there’s no need to have fear…’.

‘I’m Alive’ keeps up the intensity and creativity, this time with strident keyboards to the fore. After the strenuous dazzle of the two openers, ‘Before The Fall’ presents evocative imagery in a looser song structure ‘….stuck in this entropy…we plunge into waves and rest on the shore…

There is much more; previously released single ‘Come Feel Me’ is reviewed here, spoken word song ‘Your Female Rage’ is full of hard-hitting points before finale ‘A Thousand Cuts’ features big, industrial slices of sound-gothic.

For the listener, the variation of genre, style and content is satisfyingly rich and unpredictable and Hannah is in absolute command of it all.

Hannah Rose Kessler | Facebook

Record label – Reckless Yes

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Natasha Nicole : Alright In The End, single released 26 March 2021

Singer/songwriter Natasha Nicole from Wolverhampton UK has put everything into this debut single, creating five minutes of welcoming meditations.

Beginning with a folk-inspired waltzing acoustic guitar and an immediate, inviting lyric ‘….go home…kick back….cut yourself some slack….you don’t need to carry this load alone…’, Natasha’s pure voice sets the tone. Additional instruments join in and the vocal becomes more ethereal as the music evolves into more dream-pop territory. The listener is eventually immersed in the big, reassuring chorus, ‘…it will be alright in the end…’ which though sounding comforting still has a slight undercurrent of doubt.

The track flies by; at the end a brass solo adds to the polish on the sheen of the production and immediately you want to hear this gorgeous and timeless track again….

Natasha Nicole | Facebook

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Jo Ash : Here, Then & Somewhere Else, EP released 9 March 2021

The new EP from Jo Ash is five haunting tracks mainly featuring solo piano, a contrast to her song-based solo recordings and performances fronting rock band Derecho.

Opener ‘Petals’ starts hesitantly with a simply-stated theme that develops into a broad and echoing soundscape. Though threaded through with melancholy it calls to mind yearning for open landscapes and escape, especially when a vocal line adds to the texture. ‘Enchanted River’ is a more introspective keyboard study, flowing and cyclical with a calm gentleness laced with a bit of darkness.

Synthesisers are featured on ‘Innocence’, adding a full string sound before Jo’s voice soars above it all in a stately waltz. I particularly like the relaxed pastoral atmosphere of ‘Unspoken’; free of time and place. ‘Orion’s Quest’ evokes a blend of limitless journeys and mythology all leading to the famous constellation. It is an epic six minutes, again driven by a piano chord sequence that keeps returning as other sounds drift in and out. Jo’s voice weaves through the cosmos, culminating in a dramatic passage halfway through before the track drifts off into space. It is certainly a spectacular finale to the collection.

An innovative bonus to buying the EP – it comes with a free short story to add to the mystique…..

http://www.joashmusic.com

Derecho : Beneath A Stained Glass Sky, LP released November 2019 | cambridgemusicreviews

Jo Ash : Constellations, LP released October 2018 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Model Village : World of Carp, LP released 5 March 2020

With their first LP since ‘Healing Centre’ in 2015, Model Village storm the citadel of sharp but polite pop on this ten song collection.

The distinctive guitar introduction of opener ‘Insufferable’ and immediate lyrical touchstones, ‘….drinking Pinot Noir….embracing failure….what will we do?…’ show that the Village are back with a bang. Lead singer Lily sounds optimistic yet full of regret while the rest of the band add harmonies and a complex musical backing. ‘Oslo’ is a likeable up-tempo jaunt that transposes the action of a relationship to Scandinavia to add to the feeling of uncertainty ‘…..if I dare to speak the language I’d be lost in translation… ‘. It creates an atmosphere a bit like an arthouse film where not much happens, but there is still a winning resolution in the final reel ‘….you know I’ll be coming back for you today…’.

‘Roll It Over’ is driven by the strong melody to give another pacey song with many musical nuances and a dominant vocal performance. A surprise middle-eight makes a welcome appearance near the end. The momentum continues with ‘Otters’, a light, jazzy and summery confection featuring an enigmatic title, imagery and trademark retro electric piano.

A highlight for me is ‘Roles’ – I am very partial to this type of slow blues track and this is a fine example. Over the six minutes there is loads of time to develop the lyrical ideas, ‘….are you smoking to impress me cause that would just depress me my dear…’. Instrumentally the band have a great time, with plenty going on around the guitar arpeggios including a demented solo, roving basslines and the drums only just staying restrained. I like the way that extra syllables are pushed into the main melody to keep up an atmosphere of doubt ‘….its not that easy to throw yourself into a role that you don’t believe in…’.

The band continue to move through different genres and styles; on ‘Sunburn’ a long experimental introduction evolves into a pensive and thoughtful song, ‘Popular Band’ is a wry self-referential resume of the band’s 12 year career while the hypnotic ‘Variety Box’ is another take on the blues and showcases the best vocal performance on the album.

The album closes with the big ballad ‘Miseryguts’, as the strong melody is boosted by extravagant 70s Carpenters style backing vocals. There is more too, on a very satisfying mix of timeless indie-pop from this artful Cambridge-based collective.

model village | Facebook