The debut EP from Edinburgh quartet Yellow Helen is a varied and rich mix….
1: I Know. The most immediate track on the EP, a confident swagger of 60s pop influences, retro guitars, echoing backing voices and an interplay between verse and chorus that interlocks perfectly.
2: Frills and Lace. A sinister waltz with acoustic guitar and organ as a platform for a complex and surreal lyric, ‘…..circumnavigate once you’re caught in the jaws of a grizzly bear….’, before an edgy guitar solo joins in the end build-up. An ambitious track, and on repeated listens very much an addictive treat.
3: Spooky. Never quite sure where this EP leads to next, this is a built around a lingering descending guitar figure, languid electric piano chords and another set of strange words. This could easily accompany a pastoral interlude in a 70s psychological thriller.
4: Honeymoon Suite. With a wide ranging bass line to the fore the title track is another mini-movie, with wordplay ‘….please concierge….don’t give me the urge to leave a hateful review….’ and a nice relaxed feel to the instrumentation. Reminding me of the eccentricities of current indie stylists Tugboat Captain and back to the acidic reflections of The Divine Comedy, this is a fine conclusion to this excellent EP.
This is a version of a lesser known Bing Crosby seasonal offering; it is superficially a cosy Christmas love song but there are some dark undertones too. Gold Baby have used the lyric of isolation to reflect where we are at the end of 2020, ‘….looks like a long, long winter…what do we care?….’, but ultimately a bit of tentative optimism to see us through. ‘…..far from you, I’ll make it through if I know you’re still there……’.
Whatever the messages of the words, the music is a mellow mix of gently glistening guitar and mellow bass and drums. The band showcase these simple and beautiful chord changes as Siân Alex delivers a sensitive, airy vocal laced with harmonies and wintry firelight.
Canadian collective The Dears have packed plenty into this joyous five minutes; tubular and sleigh bells, catchy vocal call and exchange chorus along with heightened emotions and imagery, ‘I could have never imagined you’d say to me that night….behind the rumbles of the snowploughs on the buried streets of white….’. There are many varied sections, always returning to the timeless refrain ‘…you’re my only Christmas Love…’, then building up to a big finish with the full band in overdrive. There is even a contrasting B side, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ set to a less familiar and melancholic melody. Hopefully these tracks will get an airing when I eventually see the band performing in Cambridge next November….
While still waiting for the release of their new LP, power-punk quartet Fightmilk release a seven track EP of solo contributions and cover versions, with proceeds going to the Trussell Trust. The titles themselves sum up the acerbic wit of ‘(I’m Stuck at the) Work Christmas Party’ and ‘I’m Dreaming of a Christmas (Where You Just Explode)’ while ‘Happy Christmas (I Guess I’ll See You Next Year)’ is a bittersweet reflection on the state of the year, ‘….the second album’s finished, but we can’t go get a beer…I’d really love to spread some joy and cheer…by singing something loud for all to hear….and high-five the rest of Fightmilk without fear…’.
I’m not sure why Britney Spears’ My Only Wish (This Year) is not more of a playlist staple, so bassist Healey’s fuzzy pop version here is a very welcome revival. ‘Little Drummer Boy’ was always a bit of a strange song, with memories of the Bowie/Bing video. Probably less covered is ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ from the much loved ‘Muppet Christmas Carol’ movie; somehow here singer Lily manages to perform the whole range of parts. Then there is the very husky skiffle of ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ to bring this seasonal confection to an end…
A new EP from Manchester indie quartet Diving Station, evoking time, season and nature.
1.Joanna. The opening track is mysterious and claustrophobic, with the band inhabiting a recurring pattern of bass, subtle guitar and brushed drums with occasional extra layers from their distinctive Celtic harp (Clàrsach). As on the whole EP the instrumentation is restrained, untreated and perfectly complements the ambience of the songs. The lyric is intense and impressionistic as it portrays the title character ‘…..I dissociate and I put off, Joanna sings of silks and cloth…..she weaves a string, across the sheet, she sends my blood, back to my feet…’, as the words and music circle around in an atmosphere of relaxed dissonance.
2. Fruit Flies. A sensuous evocation of summer warmth and storms, it reads well as a poem but when delivered by the relaxed voice of singer Anna McLuckie the picture is fully painted. ‘….there’s an August shower, that’s unwinding foxtails in the grass……fruit flies on fruit….’.
As the time gently spirals there is plenty more imagery weaving through the track ‘…..air thick, cornflour, clouds swell with dew…..’ . Again the production leaves plenty of space in between the carefully placed notes, creating an optimistic, living and breathing song.
3. June Damp. There is an older alternative version of this track on YouTube, a tour de force performance played on solo harp accompanied by real birdsong, which has a haunting beauty of its own.
This full band recording takes the structure and adds subtly crafted embellishment that gives the track a pulsing heartbeat to drive it along. It is another warm, summery song that seems to follow a natural cycle with repetition and shifting variation, expressed in the lyric ‘……heatwaves on heatwaves……long days on long days….’ expertly blended with the pastoral yearning of the melody.
Originally from Australia and now based in Berlin (via South Korea), Eilis Frawley uses drums and electronics on this new EP as soundboards for her spoken words. With experience of playing in many bands and interweaving loops and effects with her own virtuoso performances she has created a unique fusing of musical ideas and challenging lyrics.
‘Human’ starts with a distant chiming keyboard motif and pensive thoughts, ‘….how do you know if you have reached your potential….potential is best kept as exactly that….something on the horizon but is never reached…’ alternating with a pulsing driving fuzzed beat. Eventually the two themes clash and bond.
The lusher tones of ‘Gone’ soon explode into a percussion workout; it sounds like you are listening to two accidently overlaid tracks trying to escape each other. As on all of the EP, there is something about the clear vocal delivery that makes you hang on for the next line; these pieces are overflowing with ideas.
‘Darkest Truth ‘ is a very harrowing recollection over an unrelenting industrial backing, while ‘Broken Ankles’ is a hard hitting ecological lament. ‘Louise’ is a sad tale but lightened by a delicate touch modern jazz accompaniment.
The martial drumming introduction of ‘Stats’ heralds a litany of depressing numerical facts, delivered with angry resignation. Pre-released, this is a pivotal track on the collection.
As the mainly instrumental ‘End’ plays out, you realise how good this fiery drumming, atmospheric keys and addictive words would sound in a live performance, but while we long for those distant times this EP is an excellent listen.
A new EP from UK singer/songwriter Soham De. It is a follow-up to ‘Blue’, a stripped back trio of songs released in June this year. Much of the music previously recorded by Soham De has been a melding of his heartfelt words with a variety of instrumentation; on all the tracks here it is just piano and voice.
1. Someone Else. The piano introduction is subtle then the voice fades in for this mellow song, when the killer chorus arrives the desperation of the narrator is almost painful. ‘….I end up losing out each time…so what have I got to do? what have I got to lose?….’
2. MM DD. The piano embellishments and chord changes almost steal the show in this short, sparse plea from the heart, with the vocal going from a whisper to a roar.
3. Leave A Light On. With an extended lyrical exploration of the idea of desertion and regret the keyboard echoes the hurt in the unresolved words ‘….we were stepping stones avoiding going down the waterfall….we won’t last…..if you don’t take my hand again…’
4. About Happier Things. A flowing instrumental centrepiece to the collection, perhaps portraying the waterfall in the previous track but essentially showing what a beautiful sound a solo (acoustic?) piano can capture.
5. A Loving Friend In Life. Using the fragile timbres of his voice to great effect on this stylish pop ballad, SD weaves the verses into a warm bluesy chorus; this is my favourite track on the EP.
6. Changing. A stately and emotion-filled bookend to the collection, the rolling piano chords and dynamics bring out the hurt in the vocal. It is a big finish to this involving and deeply personal set of songs.
A blistering new EP from Midlands indie supergroup GodNo! (featuring members of Grawl!x, Pet Crow, Cable, Merrick’s Tusk).
1. Unholy Water. Previously released, I described this as ‘…tight, spiky anger loping between a main riff of two chords underneath a sinister double vocal describing the psychoactive effects of alcohol. The satisfying total onslaught sounded like it could fit into an electric version of Brecht/Weill’s ahead-of-their times 1930s theatre songs….’
2. Canada Goose. Enigmatically titled two minutes of fuzzy metronomically regular chord changes, driven by a big drum sound and a blasé vocal that carries all before it and firmly sticks in your head.
3. Hulk. Another former teaser for the EP, ‘…begins slightly lighter, with just drums and sparse guitar before a raw bass joins the party…..an excellent disconnected vocal from Shelley Jane, with a gradually building level of intensity and tension ‘… when what I get is the minimum that I expect…’ soon exploding into the searing guitar-led sensational chorus… ‘…and being nice won’t save you…my strength is growing all the time…’
There are a couple of short instrumental bars but the rhythm guitar continues unrelentingly as the vocal phrases become more dominant, brittle and in the end unhinged… ‘… don’t say sorry for what I do…I could be nice this is the choice….’
4. Short Shrift. The relentless drum pattern steals the show as a platform for a loud doomy anthem with a mesmerising duo vocal chorus and sinister, echoing verses. It creates a dense and experimental texture but it is also simultaneously spiky and disconcerting like something from art rock veterans Wire.
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.
An EP that collects together earlier solo work by Gloucestershire based singer and songwriter Molly-Anne, predating her new band Molly & The Moon. Fusing elements of folk, country and storytelling, these well-crafted songs are uplifted even further by Molly’s top-quality vocals.
1. A San Francisco Story. Starting with just percussive guitar chords and the pure voice this opening track is described by Molly as a live favourite that tells its own story ‘….it was a quarter to eight down by the Golden Gate….I lost my heart in San Francisco…we didn’t care and we wore flowers in our hair…’ The amalgam of real or imagined imagery works a treat and the band rise to the occasion as they gradually join in.
2. Horizon. A wistful recollection of a past relationship, the narrator looking at the horizon and still hoping in the anthemic chorus ‘…come and find me where the ocean meets the sky…’
3. California Calling. The biggest chorus on the EP is bookended by gorgeous folk stylings in the vocals of the delicate verses. A guitar solo and organ fills out the sound before the celebratory full harmonies at the end.
4. Bristol Boy. Contemplation of a summer romance inspires vivid memories ‘…we’re running over Clifton Common searching for the sun…’, with a hint of melancholy as ‘…times like those keep me reminiscing…’. The song rushes along with urgency, as unfortunately the time passes all too quickly.
5. The Lakes. Alternating between the reverie of the verses and the majestic chorus this is another thoughtful anthem with luminous lyrical reflections ‘….and now the winter’s here and you keep the frost at my door….’. The final minute and a half of instrumental and vocal build-up is a brilliant finale to the EP.
The new album ‘Hemispheres’ (a homage to the classic Rush LP?) from Cambridge “Sci-fi Alt Rock band” Bouquet Of Dead Crows is to be issued in two parts; ‘Celestial’ now then ‘Cerebral’ to follow….
1. Terraformer Scary doom-laden introduction, a barren planetary landscape of distant guitar effects…
2. Before The Storm I think the storm has already arrived at the start of this track, then it goes a bit jazz-influenced interspersed with the heaviness through a packed two and a half minutes.
3. Caged The clear and strong vocal rides over a synthesiser guitar backing, duelling with the threatening purity of the full-on rock sound, suddenly unleashed towards the end of the track.
4. Left To Rot Featuring one of the most dynamic introductions I have heard for ages, this previously released song pushes all before it, with the explosives that this band can unleash with ease. I don’t know how anyone can play the drums that fast. It pauses occasionally with a 70s prog rock interlude.
5. Kaiju Hijinks With the listener exhausted from track 4 this new single maintains the pace and energy. The title refers to the Japanese film genre and the accompanying video stars Godzilla and the unfeasibly powerful Mothra. As the super-deep bass drives the sound the drums and guitar take on the monsters.
6. Hemispheres Martial drumming sits beneath some deceptively gentle verses and noisy prescient chorus ‘….it’s not the end of the world…this time…‘ Trading the rockier conventions for a more anthemic sound, with each of the instruments and voice given a chance to individually shine this is a multi-sectioned complex and rewarding track.
Relocating from Brescia in Italy to Manchester, Julia Bardo has absorbed musical influences and developed her cross-genre styling to great effect. I wrote a review of track 2, one of the taster singles from this EP for http://www.indiemidlands.co.uk, now the finished package has been released….
1. Into Your Eyes Gentle sound effects lure us into this classy opener. Julia’s voice is right at the front of the mix, expressive but somehow otherworldly as the guitar layers are gradually added to. Unhurried and melancholy, it is an outstanding track with a sound reminiscent of Canadian indie dream-poppers Alvvays at their echoing best.
2. Please Don’t Tell Me With a disconnected feeling in the music and lyrics, this starts with a distant vocal floating across an alt-country soundscape. This soon bridges into a catchier chorus ‘….. please don’t tell me who I am…please don’t tell me who you are…’ as a guitar figure sounds subtly jarring and dissonant, then goes into a short instrumental link.
And all of this in the first half of the song. There is plenty of musical activity in less than four minutes; add in the video too with the red and blue coloured versions of Julia’s conscience, the possibly deserted performance venue and the old portable TV and this is a rich, rewarding and thought-provoking track.
3. Lonely Morning A faster rhythm-driven song, with percussion and a spiky electric guitar setting the pace. With the sentiment of the lyrics never quite certain the chorus ‘….and when you wake in the morning lights are gone and you’re lonely….’ settles nicely in your consciousness and won’t leave.
4. I Wanna Feel Love This is a hybrid of 60s multi-layer torch song and moody dream-pop, complete with Italian spoken word section and retro instrumentation. The yearning and heartache in the vocals stays with you as this excellent EP reaches its end.