After months of secrecy and anticipation, the new Public Service Broadcasting album is announced for September and the first track is now released. ‘Bright Magic’ is themed around the city of Berlin, a spiritual home of electronica and other-worldly sounds. PSB are known for incisive use of sampled spoken words and revived archive recordings but their last album ‘Every Valley’ featured more conventionally structured songs and guest vocalists too.
This new track with the instruction of ‘People, Let’s Dance’ is a multi-layered blend of synths, 80s guitar interventions, super-deep bass and the driving drums that bring these masterful compositions to life. The extra bonus this time is the glacial warmth of the vocals from lyric writer EERA, the performing name of Norwegian singer Anna Lena Bruland. Singing and speaking mostly in German her voice overlaps, backs itself and is treated, echoed and integrated like another orchestra of instruments. The video features dancers roller skating around some of the bleaker industrial landscapes around the Thames in East London, adding to the overall hypnotic effect of this excellent track and the invitation translated as ‘…come, dance and lose yourself…’
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…”
Timeless and placeless, ‘Solid Heart’ is a gentle meditation appropriate to a season of cold and consideration, with some hints of optimism too. Chicago based singer/instrumentalist/producer Gia Margaret has taken a straightforward chord sequence, added electronics and piano embellishments and a voice that is hardly there; almost ghostly but still able to drive the song along. The overall effect is calmly breath-taking.
Gia describes her music as ‘sleep rock’ and on previous release ‘Barely There’ the atonal synth background joined with a spoken vocal to create an emotionally rich soundscape; on her other 2020 single ‘apathy’ hypnotic arpeggios threaded their way through dreamier territory with no horizon in sight. This was paired with ‘body’, a sampled lecture on physical self-awareness that raised more questions than answers, as the electronic sequencing danced along, beguiling and rewarding.
‘Carousel’ is a new release from Such Small Hands, the performing name of Brighton singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Melanie Howard. A blend of treated acoustic instruments, voice and electronics create a haunting, drifting sound.
‘Lonely Is The Rain’ is an evocative and sombre title for the opener – a measured and mellow five minute meditation, with an echoing guitar and keyboard counterpointing with Melanie’s ethereal voice. The electronic percussion picks up the pace near the end but the listener is overwhelmed by the delicate beauty of the track.
‘Do I Belong Here?’ is built around an acoustic guitar triplet figure and smoky layers of vocals weaving into a heady mix. ‘Drifter’ is a lo-fi delight then ‘Still Dreaming’ is probably my favourite on the LP. The introduction could be the theme to a cult sixties movie thriller then it transforms into a sensuous interweaving of vocals and descending chord progression. With spectral keyboard tones continually adding flavour, by the end it is epic and almost orchestral in its ambition.
The title track ‘Carousel’ is built around a repeating note and a louder electric ambience alternated with quieter thoughtful sections. The pensive and beautiful ‘Anhedonia’ closes the album (along with two bonus acoustic reworkings of older songs).
Reflecting the experience of ten years of writing and reshaping of the music, this excellent LP rewards in-depth listening and immersion in the tracks as they range from atmospheric vignettes to darker pieces that occupy the hinterland between nightmare and daydream.
With an electronic swoop, UK pop composer, singer, instrumentalist and producer Hydra Lerna presages her new single with words that get straight to the point ‘…you can’t say that I’m not damaged, the scars are on my back….you know that I come with baggage, we have to face the fact….’
As the percussion threads through the stark but lush synth notes we soon get to the uplift of the chorus ‘…I’m ready to be OK again…’. Hydra has a track record of dynamic, soul-searching singles where the often dark tone of the lyrics ( ‘…touch me like a razor, hold me like a bed of nails…’ from last release ‘Camera’) is always tempered by a gift for melody carried by her rich soaring voice which adds a balance of optimism to the whole.
This release is the last one before a creative break to realign her musical career and it is a fitting temporary finale; memorably the music rolls, pushes and pulls like gathering storm clouds before the sun breaks through. In the eye of the hurricane of swirling keyboard layers and textures the multi-tracked voices add a lushness and grandeur to the resolution of the title line.
The last acapella lines float away into the ether and her single unadorned voice is the final sound we hear for the present from this talented and enigmatic performer.
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.
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.
‘Camera’ is the stunning new single from singer/composer/musician Hydra Lerna, self-produced as always and this time moving into a lighter pop groove. Despite the summery flavours of the music, there is a darker side in the lyrical conflicts of the narrator being in a difficult relationship, not quite sure of the conclusion but aware of the positives (‘….It’s a hundred degrees outside…but in here it’s intensified….’).
Many of her songs show that Hydra Lerna has always been able to turn a lyrical phrase inside-out and use some evocative imagery ‘…hold me like a bed of nails… I think I found my holy grail…’ and explanation ‘….it is all in our flawed design…puzzle pieces with jagged lines…’. But the situation described here is sort of equal, with the slightly sinister pay-off ‘…when we’re hanging in the balance….I’ll have the photographs of you…’
It is a lyrically dense and thought-provoking song and the music reflects the ebb and flow of the words; based around two six note keyboard figures there is a deep bass counterpoint and subtle percussion.
Hydra Lerna is a talented harp player and has featured this on some of her previous tracks but this time the unique instrument has been left to gather dust in the studio cupboard; as she explains “There is no harp in Camera at all sadly, just synths! I moved away from it for this track because I wanted to be free to create something upbeat and dancey, without feeling like I needed to sit and write with the harp”
The innovative video features lots of secret filming in Norwich city centre shops, as Hydra links together the photography of the video-watcher, herself and the surroundings and looks like she is having great fun in the process!
A new solo EP from JEDRIK, the singer from Cambridge pioneering dreampop trio Carolyns Fingers, who appeared on the scene in 2017 with some choice live shows and single releases. These four exquisitely crafted tracks blend electronic sounds and voice creating something very special…
1. Unfettered. Sung random-ish phrases roll over each other as a classically influenced chord sequence and bass move sedately on. It is an outpouring of emotion and love; uplifting, celebratory and fun ‘.…so happy I feel I don’t weigh anything at all….’ and winningly ‘… I’m a pair of trousers shy from true paradise….’
2. More Drreamscape. The bass keys and pure vocal start this off as a contemporary pop song but the foreboding atmosphere builds with insistent guitar notes and percussion until the track changes direction and becomes more of the dream of the title. Conjuring that half-awake drifting in and out of consciousness feeling other treated voices intrude, but the chorus dominates towards the end before a sinister coda unsettles the listener…
3. Seamsplitter. Structurally ambitious and ambiguous, this one is built around a descending guitar riff and features an addictive mix of claustrophobic beats and lyrical fragments. The turmoil of the music echoes the aspirations and feelings that don’t go as planned ‘….you say you’ll make me whole….’
4. Special. My favourite on the EP, a lo-fi gem of gentle percussion, low register guitar and a sultry, slinking melody beautifully sung. The chorus hooks will stay in your head ‘….what can I do to be someone you always find special…’
Emzae‘s previous release ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ was an introspective and hypnotic opus, driven by an electronica pulse and unrelenting percussive beat, winningly combining with a sensuous vocal and rich melody to complete the song. Like all of her work it was immaculately constructed and sculpted to maximum effect.
Now there is a new single from the Derby-based electronic composer/singer/instrumentalist and for this track she has thrown off the shackles to deliver a tight mid-tempo anthem with a perfectly timed dance groove. Emzae has complete control over her recorded output and each element is in place; a reliable root bass note, a dissonant fuzzy keyboard masquerading as a guitar and a chorus that shoots off in a different direction altogether, when some echoing background vocals join the party.
The lyric carries a pensive message; the narrator of the song is passing through crowds leaving work and contemplating their existence and consciousness – do we all share the same problems, dilemmas and perceptions? And taking this through to the conclusion in Emzae’s own words describing the song ‘…do any of us truly give ourselves the time to live in the moment? do we sit and enjoy who we are, become content in our imperfection and find enjoyment in the journey…?’
Whatever the potential truths of some of these thoughts this music is a powerful burst of energy to fully enjoy, savour and of course dance to…