Rejoice! the Smoke Fairies are back! After a tour in 2015 with Public Service Broadcasting (and their vocals on The Race For Space album) there was the highly regarded seasonal LP ‘Wild Winter’ and then silence. Now we have the release of a superb new single ‘Out Of The Woods’ with an accompanying video and the hope of more music to come.
With a confident guitar figure in the introduction this track has that brooding, relentless feel of the best of their work, including a lyric loaded with threat and ambiguity, ‘….. Like the tangled roots I grew into you…. in winter’s mires you burn your fires…and you burn me too…’.
Every element is in place; the verses are heavy with melancholy and questioning but it is the harmonies in the chorus that really drive the track along ‘….Out there in the trees…the branches moving…I want to follow you but you cut your path straight through me…’. Sparsely arranged to focus on the hypnotic guitar and unadorned drum beats this distinctive folk-rock soon has the listener under its spell.
The video has the duo playing guitar and running through London Docklands and Epping Forest while a semi-mythical figure blends with the boughs lit only by the occasional sunlight through the trees. All very atmospheric and mysterious, reminiscent of cult eighties movie ‘The Company of Wolves’, illustrating the light and dark of the track perfectly.
The Strawberry Fair – Cambridge’s highly regarded free festival of music and culture is a platform for a huge range of talented acts, many drawn from the local area. Featuring on the Cambridge 105 stage on this still and warm evening, Amethysts are two performers who continue to build a following for their interweaving of ambient, atmospheric electronics with sublime pop sensibilities.
Opening track ‘Stones’ sets up a sparse but smooth rhythm pattern as keyboard loops and embellishments are added by the duo. Creative live guitar parts played by Simon complement the brilliant voice of singer Clarice. ‘How It Is’ has an infectious chorus and some neat vocal harmonies to add to the atmospherics.
Early single ‘My Love’ has now amassed one million streams with its heartfelt lyric and subtle melody. As it was a festival audience the band played a cover; ‘Dreams’ is not my favourite Fleetwood Mac song but there is no doubt that they did justice to the longevity and classic status of this much-loved track with a restrained, echoing instrumentation and powerful vocal.
Recent single ‘Imitate Me’ is more uptempo with some busy percussion loops then the closing ‘Alone’ built up from a distant horizon of sound into a glorious finale with an impassioned emotional message and some bold pulses of electronic punctuation.
As the sun went down the band’s enigmatic and graceful set drifted away over one relaxed corner of the festival site…
(Amethysts will be appearing at The Blue Moon, Cambridge on 27 September 2019)
An excellent new four-track EP from London duo Panic Pocket . Cast adrift through the inconsistencies of modern life the pair sum it all up with dry wit and bittersweet irony tempered with an undercurrent of warmth….
1. The Boss After a harp glissando to start, the usual live line up of lo-fi guitar and mini-keyboard gets a kicking drumbeat and bass too behind the tale of unfair power structures in the workplace. With the cutting ‘…congratulations on your masculine power trip, save me a seat because it looks like I am coming too…’ and ‘…when will you listen to a single word I say, not gonna happen before close of play….’ the only answer to the irritations seems to be in the middle eight; ‘….got my P45, HR was never on my side….’.
Lyrically addictive, the word lines are duetted and interplayed between Sophie and Natalie into a frenetic and sparkling two and a quarter minutes.
2. You Have to Laugh There is a real melancholy underneath this description of non-compatibility and decline in a relationship. It is full of wryly crafted lines like ‘….we’ve been hanging out a while but I’m yet to see you crack a smile….’ as the music strolls along with the analogue keys filling out the sound. The despairing and repeating line ‘….you have to laugh, otherwise I’ll cry…’ sums it all up.
3. Pizza In My Pants Perceptive and fun tune celebrating escape from external pressures to succeed and endless planning ahead ‘….Emma’s got a house in the suburbs, she bought it with her banker husband, wonder if he has a brother?…’ ‘….Hannah’s baby’s due in the summer, she will be a brilliant mother, I’m not fussed about procreation, I prefer my PlayStation…’.
Featuring cool harmonies and percussion the song finally resolves into the defiant ‘…I’m not saving for a rainy day, I’m just doing it my way…’.
4. OK Cupid Another sadder track, the timeless idea of unrequited adoration set into the anonymity of social media. The music is as plaintive as the message, with yearning keyboard lines intertwined with the frustrated vocal.
This may be a low key, lo-fi song but like the rest of the EP it leaves a big impression….
Acoustic indie band The Sunbathers release their debut LP ‘A Weekend Away With …..’, featuring a sea-related theme threading through the 15 tracks. As the duo hail from the East Midlands the geographical distance to all coastal areas adds an extra longing in the references to far-off places as the answer to yearnings and melancholic reflections. Beginning with wave and gull sounds the opening track ‘It Doesn’t Matter If It Rains’ sets the tone of wistful nostalgia explored in later lyrics.
The instrumentation consists of Paul’s sparkling acoustic guitar, with delicate arpeggios and multi-layered harmonic structures. An occasional ukulele and percussion fades in at times, with a melodica giving a reassuring DIY simplicity too on ‘Big Boy Now’ and ‘Shifting Sand’. The chance meeting in ‘If Only’ is a sad lament for a past relationship possibly given new life by a day at the sea, ‘…the wind sweeps in across the bay and takes my breath away and I’m willing you to stay…’.
The waltz time of ‘Girl You Left Behind’ gives an upbeat musical gloss to a brilliantly restrained lyric of disappointment, delivered with subtle emotions by vocalist Julie.
‘Don’t Go Home’ is a plaintive real-time cry from the heart over shimmering echoing guitar, as on many tracks the voice and music complementing each other perfectly.'(Waiting) For Trains’ is a realistic summary of long-distance relationships ‘…what can I do, now I’m a slave to engineering works at Crewe….I wish that one of us could drive, it might just be the only way our love survives..’ ‘Warmth Of The Sun’ closes the album with some sort of redemption from emotional insecurity, having finally arrived at the sea…
It is a beautiful, involving album to escape into, fragile and carefully crafted. Discovering its quiet secrets was a bit like hearing Nick Drake’s Pink Moon for the first time and I can’t recommend it higher than that.
California has always held a semi-mythic status as a destination in pop music, with fine songs from The Mamas And The Papas, Beach Boys, Wedding Present, Gomez and many others.
Now Ely duo Elma have added to the list with an uplifting prelude to their soon to be released album. Although many of their songs and their live shows are just guitar and vocals, here they have gone for a full-band instrumentation with horns, multi-tracking and some sparkling drumming. Starting with some sinister backwards guitar, the main brass-driven riff soon establishes itself as a platform for another strong vocal performance from Ellie Gillett.
Repeated listens reveal more and more neat touches in the excellent production, no doubt with many of the instruments played by Mark Ellis. A spoken middle-eight has that strange guitar sound effect again but then we finish suddenly, the narrator never gets there, maybe never leaves their home town and will unfortunately not find that ‘….our sugar coated dreams will come true….’
Check out the accompanying video too, with faded retro beach and fairground images…
There is plenty of musical talent in the area not directly in the city of Cambridge; St. Ives, Haverhill and from Ely come Elma , named after singer Ellie Gillett and multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Mark Ellis. Tapping into a sixties revivalist sound, this duo comfortably inhabit several styles and contrast with the many current performers who pursue pure psychedelia from that era. For a concert advert they say ‘see us!! We’ll make you laugh, then cry, then we’ll put you back together again’ which seems a fair assessment based on these four fine songs.
1. Slo-Mo. Co-written with highly regarded songwriter Boo Hewerdine, this end-of relationship waltz builds well with repeated listens.The mostly acoustic instrumentation ebbs and flows and somehow the direct lyric really nails the emotional idea, (‘…I read your letter, the black and the white and suddenly everything’s grey…’). Check out the video, filmed at the Cambridge Union café/bar, all good fun.
2. Butterfingers. Another collaboration with Boo, this is my favourite track on the EP. With hints of Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love and Eric Carmen’s All By Myself it is a plaintive piano ballad with a stunning vocal performance from Ellie; heartfelt, vulnerable yet still powerful. I love it.
3. September. I usually quite like this month but may have to reconsider after the traumatic lovelorn reminiscences described here, set to a full-on Phil Spectorish backing with handclaps, multi-tracked vocals and a proper middle eight section.
4. Settle Down. A quiet end to the EP, both of the duo get to sing here, gentle verses and a catchy hookline underpinned by acoustic guitar.
The band are regularly gigging around the area, on the evidence of this EP I look forward to a full LP too….