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…”
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.
A new four track EP from Scatter, the recording name for Stockholm based musician Erik Bergqvist (also part of Victorian Tin and Schaum).
1.Disappear. The mellow title piece features echoing electric piano with a late-night pace and a verse that takes its time to build up to the cryptic phrase ‘….gravity’s the same or slightly weakened thanks to old champagne….’, but there is less ambiguity about the key lines ‘…..and you’re gone so I might just also disappear….’. The whole track is framed with melancholy; reminiscent of some of the bleaker tones of the eighties UK charts where the pop gems emerged triumphantly from the music scenes of declining industrial towns.
2.Eyes Shut Down. Now sink into this track, a waltzing meditation on love and loss that seems to roll across a natural landscape filmed in black and white. A cello sound and brief guitar solo breaks through the mix but it is the soothing rhythm of the acoustic guitar that gently dominates.
3.Forgetfulness. This is an EP of textural variety, on probably my favourite song the fully electronic backing moves along animatedly as Erik’s vocal adds the emotional naturalism. It is akin to Mark Hollis’s velvet tones on tracks by atmospheric-electro pioneers Talk Talk.
4.The Seventh Stranger. A loosely structured melodic ballad; roving fretless bass, acoustic and electric piano and guitar, found voices and a double vocal weaving around to form an immersive five minutes.
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.
The debut single from Cambridge band Apteekii starts with a gentle but moody piano punctuated by restless electronic pulses. The lyric soon sets the tone of the message of this track with the bleak ‘….just another Saturday…as you scream into the void…..alI I hear is birds that tweet….’. It is portraying a swirling mix of the pernicious influences of fake news, distorted messages and the exploitation of negative social media. This is chillingly shown by the infamous comments that scroll behind the song words within the video.
It is not all downbeat – despite the despairing ‘….the more I read, the less I see, the less I understand…’ of the chorus the music sounds more optimistic. It is lifted by layers of synthesiser with a rich cello sound and there are glimmers of hope; ‘…so be my guide…to know what’s right…before it’s washed away…’ could be a fragment from a tender love song.
This is a complex, immaculately produced and thoughtful debut from this talented trio.
Combining a pure folk voice with the lustre of electronic layers and a pulsing rhythm underlay, composer and singer/instrumentalist Jackie Beverly released ‘Sweet Goodbye’ earlier this year. This continued to build her reputation on the Irish music scene after the soulful tones of 2019’s ‘Someone Else’ (showcased to perfection on a live YouTube version).
Starting with acoustic guitar and vocal, new single ‘Sea Glass’ is a creative weaving together of timeless imagery ‘……. separate the sea glass from the sand….but the waves are strong….’, elegiac reflection (including a poignant sample of Marilyn Monroe ‘….I could easily be alone it doesn’t bother me to be alone….’) and attractive instrumentation. This includes the richness of a cello, echoing acoustic piano and some unhurried and sensitive percussion.
The video carries on the sense of melancholy but tempered with macabre fun as Jackie’s band and friends appear as ghost-sheeted figures in the background. They gradually multiply and take over until they are chasing Jackie down the road in Dublin’s Portobello as the repeated line ‘…..no-one ever told me that the days and nights would feel the same….’ brings this attractive but thoughtful track to an end.
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.
‘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!
The striking Love Hearts sweets artwork heralds a new single from Derby-based musician/performer/producer Emzae, a follow up to the contrasting ‘As This Day Fades To Another’ and ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ from last year.
Like all of her recorded work this new track is immaculately constructed, with the combination of lyric and music beguiling and inviting the listener in. Reflecting the sentiment of the title, Emzae’s vocal kicks in at the one second mark and then it is all action for the brief duration of the track as it packs in verses, spoken word, bridges and a double chorus ‘….if we get into it you have to be sure, don’t wanna be restless no more….’ and of course ‘…we don’t wanna waste our time…’.
The phrases roll over each other as the voices take on different characteristics; the brilliance of this song is that all of this meshes together so effectively, expressing the fun and urgency of a possible relationship.
This lyrical dance takes place over some sharp and sparse electronic beats, percussion interruptions and possibly an acoustic piano in there too, all adding up to a sparkling two minutes.