A much-anticipated show at this fine all-purpose venue, opening tonight with the passionate performance and emotionally powerful ballads of Dan Owen. First track ‘Icarus’ immediately pulled the audience in and with his warm anecdotes and a barnstorming blues rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ he set the positive tone for the evening.
After many years of performing and a long career break, County Affair are a four-piece having a second life promoting an Abbey Road recorded album of a new batch of Americana songs. The tracks deal with eternal country music themes, joined with a likeable background of accordion, keys, guitar and percussion.
Ward Thomas started with the low-key duet ‘Dear Me’ and as soon as they segued into the descending vocal harmonies in the chorus of ‘No Fooling Me’ and the bitter-sweetness of ‘Cartwheels’ we knew that the emotional and musical magic was all in place. With varying amounts of input from their empathetic band this was a fantastic set, balanced between the pop oriented songs of 2019’s ‘Restless Minds’ album and the big country ballads such as ‘Guilty Flowers’ and the stomping ‘I Believe In You’ as well as the heart-tearing ‘Someday’ and ‘One More Goodbye’. With final encore ‘Safe’ performed as just a duo the show had gone full circle as the harmonies gently floated in the air.
A collection of songs from Adam Sherif and Julia Oertli, also known as London-based indie duo th’sheridans, celebrating plenty of their back catalogue of addictive ‘incongru-pop‘.
The bleakly atmospheric ‘Cabot Cove’ from 2014 opens the listings then the words and music of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Dismembered’ pull the listener right into their world as the two and a bit chords punch and roam. ‘Welcome To Town, Pussycats’ has the guitar voice and drums racing each other in a winning combination before ‘Architecture’ is a cleverly twisted social commentary ending with a emotive viola solo from Julia.
‘Hot Day in 20-05’ is one of my favourites; a compact mix of pace, pathos and bursts of electric mayhem, flowing nicely into the similar atmosphere of pre-released single ‘Awesome Summers & Kate’. ‘Ashley Is A Geek’ is a Ramones style mini rock opus, contrasting with the folk-powered guitar of ‘A Quiet Year’.
And there is much much more, the fourteen tracks constantly varying in tone and pushing the minimal instrumentation in all directions, culminating in the finale ‘Keep Warm’ where Adam’s vocals carry the restrained reflection and regret of the lyric with conviction.
The album is a heartwarming, rich and fun compilation of thoughtful but edgy DIY pop.
A new collaboration between Cambridge musician Gavin Chappell-Bates and electro dance music producer Charlie Howell, Star Pixel release their first single. The duo’s name may be an amalgam of macro and micro scales but this sound is unreservedly big, brash and full of the passion that Gavin Chappell-Bates always brings to his singing performances, no doubt influenced by his favourite band the Manic Street Preachers whose album has a cameo in the accompanying video.
Brilliantly edited by collaborator Karen Cann, the multiple visual images featured are rapid jump cuts of real life circles from the natural world, sound technology and art. It is as exhaustingly frenetic as the music and works like a hypnotic spell to complement and pull you into the track. As the unrelenting drive of the guitars duel with the giant electro beats, the lyrics culminate in an extensive list including ‘…. criminals, dreamers, lovers and leaders…peacemakers, instigators and the non-believers…step right up, step right in…’ who would all be welcome to join ‘The Circle’…
There will be many more 2021 releases from this highly creative duo, who classify their music as ‘Electro-GrungeStep’…
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)
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.
Kammahav are Christian Gustafsson from Forshaga in Sweden and Tony Jenkins from Cambridge, composers and performers of this new double CD.
It is a rewarding and dense mix from the start; emerging from a collage of sound effects is the grandiose pop of ‘Stitches’, referencing the assassination of Swedish politician Olof Palme in 1986. With distant vocals and fuzzy guitars like mid-period Neil Young it is a standout track. ‘Carrying On’ showcases the acoustic pop of the duo then the orchestration richly fills out the sound to impressive effect. ‘It’s Not Me…It’s You’ picks up the pace in a cinematic relationship song which the title line succinctly describes.
There are depressing political reflections on ‘The 52’ and in comparison the list of possible fates for the singer ‘….I could drown …I could suffocate…I could be stranded beneath the ice…’ sounds strangely uplifting. A strength of the duo is when they meld together the Scandi-noir soundscape of melting guitars and strings with the personal but disconnected words, evidenced on the slow-burning ‘Hea’.
And there is much, much more including the compact pop burst of ‘Seaside Ghost Town’ and the mellow play out of ‘…To The Sea’, as well as a whole disc of bonus tracks, remixes and alternative takes, showing the endless inventiveness of this creative pairing.
There are two versions of this song from CARRON. The original track released last month is a mellow and soothing electropop track full of rippling arpeggios weaved through ethereal vocals from multi-instrumentalist sisters Méabh & Mella Carron. The keyboards have a significant but not dominant presence, especially when dancing around the bass pedalled notes during the chorus and the key lines ‘…..if I borrowed a life would I question myself….would it change what I felt…’ . There is even a bit of gentle synth soloing before the multi-layer harmonies bring the song to a close.
Now CARRON have re-interpreted their own song for a ‘Live in Lockdown’ alternative. Beginning with a repeated figure like autumnal birdsong the unadorned folk-based combination of violin and piano carries the backing with the subtlest of electric guitar enhancement. The sisters draw true beauty from the melody when singing solo, in unison or with harmonies.
The stripped-back and slowed down mix emphasises the wintery cadences of the arrangement, performed in a candlelit setting it is a gorgeous combination of voices and music.
The fourth album from alt-country duo Ward Thomas sees them infusing their sound with contemporary pop to great effect. Opener ‘Sweet Time’ is as uplifting a track as you could hear; especially with the accompanying video of the sisters and friends cycling on a summer day and when they are singing ‘……sipping on champagne stars and slowing down the speed of light…’ all is indeed well with the world.
‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ and ‘Open Your Mind’ keep the pace up but the waltzing ‘Someday’ stops the show. It is a torch song fully using the gorgeous harmonies that roll up to a summit before fading away then reaching the big string-backed chorus ‘….don’t say you love me yet…darling I’m still too scared…’. Gorgeous.
‘Meant To Be Me’ and ‘Hold Space’ are reflections of aspects of current chart pop with acapella interlude ‘Dear Me’ showcasing the voices again. ‘Wait Up’ recalls aspects of their earlier albums sound while full-on Bond theme ‘My Favourite Poison’ is a sweeping strings soundscape.
The last two tracks are quiet and thoughtful with the sisters delicate and gentle harmonies in the forefront of the mainly acoustic backings.
There is more – three bonus cover versions, starting with ‘Halfway’, a rousing duet with James Blunt and a song reminiscent of Ward Thomas crowd pleasers at their live shows. ‘Human’ with Jack Savoretti is a countrified live rendition of The Killers’ song with an angelic vocal arrangement and the finale of Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’ is as good as a cover of a classic song should be.
A new single from Leeds duo Keep Back Ivy, a follow-up to ‘Read All About It’ released in July. Lyrically that was a critique of the place of media in modern society, reflecting unease through evocative imagery along with sparse and unpredictable guitar.
The new track ‘Make It Right’ is another musical low-fi filmic soundtrack, this time starting the song with moody guitar notes and this dark introduction ‘……you get together in your friendship groups….and talk about all you hate...’
Then the song changes direction and the rhythmic chords lighten the ambience despite the serious messages in the words. Above all it is a plea for understanding of gender diversity and acceptance instead of exclusion, with the atmosphere echoing some of the tone of the previous single.
Trying to resolve the different viewpoints, ‘…we all just want to make it right….but you’re not my sister if you’re telling me what to think or do….you’re not my friend if you’re telling me who else can be my friend….’ leads to a pure, clear and impassioned vocal performance, as the bottleneck electric guitar gently soars and serenades the listener (showcased nicely on the accompanying video).
As if there are three songs in one, this is a complex, rewarding and thoughtful single…
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.