An interesting four-track EP from two musicians who have never met; Christian Gustafsson from Forshaga in Sweden and Tony Jenkins from Cambridge unite to form Kammahav showing how words and music can be united across the internet, creative processes that have now been happening for many years in various fruitful collaborations across the world.
1. Everlasting: The most immediate song on the EP, an instrumental compendium of guitars, Hammond organ and percussion – all unprocessed and with a refreshing 60s jangling clarity. The vocal and harmonies follow a strong melody, especially on the soaring hookline.
2. A Magical Place: A widescreen, epic track densely filling its eight and a half minutes. Starting with a mandolin forlornly strumming over a distant but slowly building electric guitar figure, eventually the slowly delivered and questioning words arrive. We are in prog rock territory here – but the music and words work their spell as much of the genre does, becoming an immersive, theatrical experience. It is a bit like one of those mid-period Pink Floyd tracks with a haunting personal alienation lyric, eventually consumed by a big, echoing guitar solo.
3. Repeat: The whole EP has a retro feel; ‘Repeat’ is firmly embedded in the sixties sounds of The Byrds and early Moody Blues. Evocative images float in and out of the narrative ‘……I could be a poet writing sonnets to the girl of my dreams….I could be in politics…I’ve got the honest face….’; these are tempered by a more downbeat middle eight with the overall effect making a good stand-alone single.
4. The Moment: With a ticking clock (metronome?) setting the beat, this pastoral interlude has some sweet-sounding acoustic guitar arpeggios, a connection to the EP title and a detailed description of an abandoned room ‘….fraying edge of the linoleum…books unopened…words redundant…’. Ending with ‘…..just a memory…just a picture…just a fading photograph….people smiling to catch the magic of the moment’. The sentiment and instrumentation could be an outtake from early Genesis album and gothic minor classic ‘Nursery Cryme’.
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….
Following on from her debut solo album ‘My Name Is Safe In your Mouth’ in November last year Liela Moss releases an excellent new EP of cover versions, with each song sharing the theme of rain and its various connections to the emotions.
1. Here Comes The Rain Again The most well-known track on the EP, a major hit for Eurythmics in 1984 and was always one of their more enigmatic mainstream works.
This new version explores the darker side with sparse distant keyboards surging into lush strings and dense instrumental textures as the vocal turns the emotions inside out. At times the multi-tracked voices echo through the track like a stormy wind that accompanies the rain.
2. I Can’t Stand The Rain Soul classic written and recorded by Ann Peebles in 1973 and then made a bigger hit in an electro-disco version by Eruption in 1978, Liela has focussed on the power of the simple lyric of reminders of loss and regret, while the music has a percussive urgency as a strange repeating note fades in and out.
3. It’s Raining Today With the death this week of Scott Walker this track (from his 1969 LP ‘Scott 3’) has additional poignancy and prominence but it was always going to be the standout cover on this collection.
Starting with a gentle, thoughtful vocal it is at times a sweeping big ballad but still retaining an emotional intimacy, helped by lyrics such as ‘….it’s raining today, but once there was summer and you….those moments descend on my windowpane…’. A full orchestral sound is unleashed in the second half of the song, with a show-stopping performance from Liela.
4. Prayers For Rain The original 1989 Cure song was described as ‘an evocative, wounding portrayal of emotional desolation. Water serves as a metaphor for the feeling of hope and enthusiasm toward life’.
A bold choice to include on the EP, and with lines like ‘…infectious sense of hopelessness and prayers for rain, I suffocate, I breathe in dirt and nowhere shines but desolate and drab…’ this could be quite a challenge.
The resulting cover is bleakly powerful and satisfying, maintaining a pace and relentless stately energy through the song, with the band allowing plenty of space for the vocal to cut through.
A new EP from Benz, the performing name of Swedish composer and singer Ebba Salomonsson. Moving easily between dense, layered instrumentation and a sparser sound these three tracks represent some of the diversity and range of her ideas.
1. Swing My Soul A distant undulating keyboard, echoing drum beat and the song begins with the cryptic lyric ‘….I guess the light blew up in my face…..I couldn’t turn away…’. The loose tempo and beguiling vocal is a heady concoction, before we reach the big title hookline. A languid trumpet sound interweaves with an avalanche of guitar noise for the climatic last third of the song, as the words turn to regret ‘…we used to live like moments would come back….now I got no more to give…’
2. Erazor The deceptively loud introduction gives way to a lighter than air vocal on a joyous pop song with a tune that sounds so perfect and natural you wonder why nobody has thought of it before.
There is some tension in the lyrical sentiment though; the doubts of ‘….I fear your heart is going numb…..love me until your heart breaks…love me until it don’t…’ soon give way to the frustrations of ‘…keep on falling apart, keep on heading the wall…’. The guitar keeps bursting back into the mix and the whole thing motors along like a War On Drugs A-side. This gem of a song is released simultaneously as a single.
3. The Smile The dissonant mellotron heralds a lush, sensuous soundscape of synthesisers and a smooth, rich voice over a stately pace set by an insistent but muted drum. Another classy melody and words revolving around the ‘smile’ of the title. ‘…keep her head in the breeze…in hope she’ll feel alive and see what’s left of me… oh, that smile she gave to me…’. The extended instrumental coda features the smoky trumpet sound again.
This is a lovingly-crafted set of songs, brought to life by top quality musicians. Excellent!
A new self-produced EP from Norwich based singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Hydra Lerna, building musical textures around her harp-playing and electronic treatments.
1. Reckless A distant tone introduces a recurring loop figure on the harp, other sounds drift in and out but the gorgeous vocal really lifts the song; understated but intense ‘…it’s clear that I know what I want and it’s becoming an addiction, you’re becoming my addiction….‘ The soaring chorus melody carries all before it and electronic percussion patterns and bass pedals help to build up the drama. This a stunning start to the EP.
2. Angel v. Psycho This is a bit more sparse and spiky with a processed voice, creating a darker atmosphere and never quite revealing where it is going.
3. Distraction This short analogue-toned electronic interlude floats dreamily in some alternative space, gradually adding the layers and the repeated title to enhance the mystery.
4. Hydra – Remix Back to a more conventional song structure here for this description of a relationship intertwined with a lyrical identification with the ‘Hydra of Lerna’ of Greek and Roman mythology. The staccato musical core of the track flows into a busy percussive chorus ‘…you’ve got power but I’ve got poison, I can take you down…’.
5. Birdcage – Remastered A waterfall of lovely harp triplets roll through the start and are never far away in this anthemic piece. A lyric of escape gives way to an instrumental coda; this is another track that shows the creativity, imagination and potential of this talented performer.
A new EP from Manchester four-piece Diving Station, an engrossing collection of acoustic and electric soundscapes.
1. You’re Not Listening As a guitar sound arrives from a distance singer Anna McLuckie immediately pins down the sense of the track with her jazzy vocal stylings. The distinctive harp appears after a minute or so, adding an unearthly texture to the constantly changing instrumentation. The other band members drift in and out with vocal and musical contributions to a song that never follows a predictable path.
2. Taking Tongues A beautiful combination of harp and acoustic guitar sets this gorgeous track on its way. Deceptively sailing along on a smooth tide of restrained acoustic folk the rest of the band suddenly crash in with an electric guitar and percussion outburst; even the harp gets aggressive. The calm after the storm is a glorious vocal coda.
3. When I Arrived It Was Raining With a title like the opening line of an inviting novel, this is another track to lose yourself in its many sections and moods. A lyrical evocation of homecoming and longing is at times accompanied by a sparse but always carefully judged instrumentation; impressively towards the end the harp and guitar harmonics create the sound of raindrops…
4. Tour Guide A dream-like and anthemic end to the EP, driven by a sustained and emotional vocal as the band create layers of sound patterns underneath, gradually leading to a gentle play-out as the finale to this fine collection of songs.
The long-awaited new EP from acoustic indie-folk band Flaming June; driven by the compositions of singer/guitarist Louise Eatock. In the spirit of traditional folk themes of protest and comment these four excellent songs champion ‘…female spirits that break the mould…’
1. Firework Maker’s Daughter A mid-tempo rousing track, with the violin interweaving its magic through the acoustic guitar and restrained percussion. Based on a short story by Philip Pullman, Louise delivers an adventurous lyric that on the surface describes the title character aspiring to follow an unconventional career path but spreads into broader imagery of justice and ambition.
2. Oblivion Instantly conjuring up images from Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ and edgier parts of historic novels this brisk music takes the listener into the midst of communities where the downtrodden escape from a difficult real life in the 19th Century. Short instrumental punctuations, an excellent double-tracked vocal, the dense texture of the violin again and especially a chorus of ‘…laudanum lovers love like no other…but they can’t remember how it feels…’ lift the three minutes into something special.
3. Drunken Assassin A lighter and more upbeat atmosphere musically but the words move into dark territory of introspection on loneliness and addiction within a relationship. The lyric pulls no punches ‘…if only you weren’t drinking yourself half to death we could live happily ever after…’
4. Women’s Battalion The pivotal track on the EP, a commemoration of the centenary of the 1918 general election, the first election following the enfranchisement of middle-class women over the age of 30. It was also the first time that working class men, although not working class women, were allowed to vote, so the song includes the continuation of the struggle for equality, extending it as far as the present day. The relentless marching pace of the song and spirited vocal performance push all before it, with fine contributions from cajón and violin.