Tag Archives: indie

Katy Kirby : Cool Dry Place, LP released 19 Feb 2021

The new LP from Texas-based singer/songwriter Katy Kirby is refreshing, lyrically challenging and hints of summers to come in its music.

The short and sparse ‘Eyelids’ sets the dreamlike tone for the collection; acoustic guitar and piano complementing the beguiling vocal. With music and words that seem not quite aligned but very much in a good way ‘Juniper’ has one of those chord sequences that sounds like it is constantly catching up with itself and instantly lodges in your brain. A relaxed voice effortlessly flows above the uncluttered backing, sometimes giving way to just a lone guitar. The imagery of the lyrics ‘…you don’t need a gardener to know…which way the blossoms going to float….’ meshes seamlessly with the instrumentation, with extra nuances through the two and a half minutes running time. According to Katy “This is a song about motherhood, mostly...’.

The jumpier rhythm and hesitations of ‘Peppermint’ is followed by the delicate and playfully addictive ‘Traffic!’. Previously released as a single this gorgeous dancing melody is a winner, with a hook to immerse yourself in. A guitar solo, heavenly choir and electronic voice treatments all add to the mix.

The LP is packed full of treats, including the quiet piano ballad of ‘Portals’ and probably best of all the leisurely musings, big chorus and grand finale of title track ‘Cool Dry Place’ followed by the enigmatic low-key bookend of ‘Fireman’.

At the intersection of indie pop, lo-fi folk and perfectly crafted song writing this is a gorgeous debut album.

Katy Kirby (kirbykaty.com)

Keeled Scales

Nervous Twitch : Nervous Twitch, LP released 29 January 2021

Straight in with the blistering ‘Count Your Blessings’, Leeds three-piece Nervous Twitch deliver a collection of roughly-cut pop diamonds on their excellent fourth album. Definitely a formidable live band; their recordings distil the essence of the energy from a stage performance.

I especially like the casual indifference of ‘Tongue Tied’, ‘….I’ve always got so much to say but I can’t always use it….’, tempered by the classic punk chorus. ‘A Bag For Life’ builds a chanting song around single line bass and guitar (reminding me of the spiky dance sounds of Shopping), then ‘Not Everyone’s Out To Get Me’ is a fuzzy and effervescent anthem.

A tasty synth riff joins the party for previously released ‘Keeping Faith In Something’, featuring one of Erin’s best vocals and ‘Alright Lads’ is a compact and sharply structured Ramones homage, readily acknowledged by the trio as a great influence. The calculated lyrical dismissal of ‘Boredom and Dissatisfaction’ hangs around a reassuring set of chord changes as does the darker anti-vocal of ‘The Way That I Feel’.

‘Fickle You’ ends the LP with a garage tune that is the constant in an ever changing musical battleground, demonstrating perfectly how after four albums Erin, Jay and Ashley have honed their addictive sound to cut this fine set of twelve tracks.

Nervous Twitch | Facebook

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Nervous Twitch : Keeping Faith In Something, single released October 2020 | cambridgemusicreviews

Madisyn Whajne : Save Our Hearts, LP released December 2020

On this debut album from Canadian singer/songwriter Madisyn Whajne the first track ‘Summer Love ‘ is a supreme slice of dreampop with an edge, as a hypnotic drum pattern is a platform for a sublime voice and all over hypnotic effect.

Then ‘Killing Desire’ maintains the momentum as a seventies style glam rock piano figure drives a minimally chorded epic into pure pop heaven.

‘One Shot’ is in rockier territory, where the band battles with the vocal to great effect. Madisyn drives the vocal straight through the middle of the musical mayhem.

This opening triumphant triumvirate of tracks is followed by the duet ‘So In Love’, where Madisyn and James Grey deliver a neat ballad, before the chiming vocal glories of ‘Sweet Talk’ and the punchy pulses and descending scale of ‘Don’t Walk Away’. ‘When Morning Comes’ echoes the ambience of dreamy pop titans Alvvays and ‘Never Give In’ is reflective and relaxed.

The last two tracks showcase the contrasting sides of Madisyn Whajne; the up tempo airiness of ‘Fire’ and the looser, bleaker threads of the title track finale bring this superb collection to an end.

Musician | Madisyn Whajne | The Official Website

Yellow Helen : The Honeymoon Suite, EP released November 2020

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.

Yellow Helen – Home | Facebook

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RAMES : Won’t Be Long, single released November 2020

This is the third single from London four-piece RAMES; a likeable blend of jangly guitar pop tempered with US influenced rock and a determination to lift the mood.

Their debut track ‘Easy For You’ with its joyous Cure/Byrds introduction was a fine welcome to the band, with an intense vocal, roving bass line, room for the guitars to breathe and a winning chorus. Follow-up ‘She’s Gold’ was more densely layered and driven by a recurring instrumental top line and pulsing drums duelling with the echoing vocal.

Now their new release ‘Won’t Be Long’ shows a band building confidence in their sound. This is also evident in the accompanying video showcasing the quartet visiting a variety of London sights, playing celebratory football and setting up to perform in the shadow of some railway arches. It is a punchy, catchy pop song with all the elements of their sound firmly in place, featuring a neat middle eight and bold chorus. In the strange unpredictable music future it would make it strong opener to their live performances…

RAMES | Facebook

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Diving Station : June Damp, EP released 27 November 2020

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.

https://www.facebook.com/divingstationmusic

Tugboat Captain : Rut, LP released 16 October 2020

This may be the perfect antidote to the maelstrom of uncertainty and contradiction of current everything; London four-piece Tugboat Captain have fashioned a complex and upbeat compendium of rewarding sounds.

Like many of the tracks opener ‘Check Ur Health’ draws on a range of sixties sources with a touch of prog-folk detachment in the lyrical delivery and the unpredictable instrumentation. There are later Beatles influences too, emphasised by the band’s insistence that the disc was recorded secretly at Abbey Road when there was spare time available.

The prescient ‘No Plans (For This Year)’ was finished a while ago, bringing in brass and strings to add emphasis to the vocal lines, driven by a neat piano break. ‘C’mon! Haribo?’ is frenetic fun while ‘Downward Slope’ is a punchy minute and a half. ‘Come Dig Me Out’ lopes along with extra acoustic guitar flourishes before diverting into many different sections and a steadily building entourage of extra instruments and voices (the LP credits 35+ players, singers and helpers…).

And there is much much more to hear as the later tracks open up the studio opportunities with brass, strings, woodwind and ever-changing musical dynamics.

It is an album of depth and colour, every track immaculately constructed but still retaining an underlying anarchy and looseness that create welcome undulations in the polished veneer.

This debut long-player is summed up by Tugboat Captain themselves, ‘….the band have now pushed on, beyond being solely a DIY indie-pop band, leaving lo-fi behind in search of transcendence through pure pop…..’ 

https://www.facebook.com/TheTugboatCaptain/

https://doubleasiderecords.com/

Gold Baby : Versailles, single released 30 October 2020

‘Versailles’ is the latest in a string of quality singles from London trio Gold Baby, each one a self-contained epic of careful musical crafting and inventive lyrics. Highlights have included ‘500/1’, a wistful time-spanning reflection where the delicate backing builds into a dense unforgiving repeated conclusion ‘…..bad dream, bad dream, this is just a bad dream…’. ‘Philadelphia’ has a restrained road movie pace, full of atmospheric words and including a catchy chorus featuring a name check for Jesús Vidaña (found adrift in 2006 having survived lost at sea for nine months).

‘Dogbone’ is an angry but honest dismissal at the end of a relationship acknowledging that ‘…..not the draw or the cut or the bruise in my gut….you’re no-one….’ over a constantly varying and dysfunctional guitar riff. As on all of these songs singer/songwriter Siân Alex twists the words and emotions inside out, pulling the listener into a vortex of imagery and juxtaposition, used to great effect in most recent track ‘Japanese Racehorse’. Here the music and words embrace each other in subtle low key verses and a stately anthemic chorus. If read as a poem it works very well, the music raises it to another level.

Now new track ‘Versailles’ is a pensive and mellow piece, with a part-acoustic backing competing to be quieter than the voice. The lyric of disconnection and regret is painfully drawn ‘……there’s barbed wire between us whenever we speak….we used to talk the stars out of the sky….and now I’m nervous about a few hours passing by….’ to contrast yet complement the sheer beauty of the music where the dreamy guitars drift in and out, surprisingly bursting into an almost solo near the end. I enjoy the lyrical games of ‘…..what are we but strangers now forcing conversation? what are we but strangers now forcing conservation of our little Versailles?….’ and overall the song lures, beguiles and completely wins you over.

Hopefully a full EP will be released in early 2021…

https://www.goldbaby.co.uk/

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The Harriets : Hopefuls, LP released July 2020

A track by track review of ‘Hopefuls’, the excellent new album by Leeds quartet The Harriets.

1. Cafe Disco. A distillation of many of the high spots on this album this stunning opening track explodes with creativity; the outsider but celebratory commentary of Pulp’s Mis-Shapes meshed with the musical complexity of timeless Squeeze singles. The first line ‘…Tell me all your guilty pleasures I’ll tell you mine…’ draws you in to listen.

2. Trip To The Moon. Previously released as a single this muses on old movies and cinemas as a backdrop to the hope of a relationship. From the dense, rolling instrumentation suddenly a catchy hookline then a soaring guitar solo appears. This album is full of surprises.

3. Darlin’. Wistful, winning pure pop laced with brass sounds, call and response verse lines and a big chorus ‘…baby when you look into my eyes…and when you come round and we play music through the night until sunrise….’

4. Have Fun In Your Workplace. With its languid pace, surreal lyrics and the patterns and solos in a pure guitar sound there are echoes of the Wave Pictures to be found here, always a good recommendation.

5. Rules For Travelling. Piano and close harmonies begin one of the most addictive and melodically strong songs on the album. The lyric seems like a strange disjointed road movie but definitely in a good way.

6. Johnny. It doesn’t seem to end well for the title character in this piano and jangly guitar filled song, although he may just have left his hometown carrying his Steely Dan albums ‘….but Johnny used to wander round, clutching ‘katy lied’ in his hand oh what a band….’ and forging ahead with his music career ‘….he wrote a lot of his songs with an American accent in mind….and so this story was a song, and the song was always going on…’. Like many of the words on the LP, there is a thoughtfulness and ambiguity which makes you listen again.

7. Come Home. With brass enhancement and a persistent driving beat, this is short and to the point ‘…I woke up today and you’d gone away…now all I seem to think about is you…won’t you, come on home…’. Melancholy but with an undercurrent of optimism.

8. Fall Out Of Grace. A lyric packed full of ideas and images with an excellent lead and harmony vocal and an inviting sixties Who/Kinks atmosphere. For me this is one of the many highlights on the collection.

9. The Boy You Knew. A thoughtful acoustic guitar bookend, delicate and emotionally raw. ‘…and I’ll never carry my love to your door….and I’ll never bury my love…I’ll sing it now once more…’

https://www.theharrietsband.com/

Mr Ben & the Bens : Life Drawing, LP released July 2020

‘Life Drawing’ is the new LP from Sheffield quartet Mr Ben & the Bens. It is a thoughtfully structured concept album, with each lyric related to life events of characters in an imagined town.

Whatever the thematic intentions it is a collection of contemplative, instrumentally varied vignettes – getting to know them is time well spent, like walking through a gallery of unfamiliar impressionist watercolours.

‘On The Beach’ is a strong melodic opener, with a hook-you-in chorus and a keyboard figure that steals the show. Ben Hall’s voice sounds both naïve and world weary with an extra wistfulness on ‘How Do You Do?’ and rocker ‘Danny’.

The gorgeous sonic musings of ‘Astral Plane’ remind me of Neil Young if he was to inhabit an indie DIY album.

It is a generous LP, twelve tracks give chance for the listener to disappear into this welcoming world, via the daydreams of ‘Minor Keys’ and ‘Beast In The House’ or the hypnotic structural experiments of ‘Walking To An Open Sky’ and disembodied voice on ‘The Wind On Spittlehill’.

‘Irish Rain’ and ‘Closing Time’ are beautiful songs with a plaintive vocal accompanied by a gentle acoustic guitar and piano. ‘Watering Can’ is a rich waltz with a lush arrangement of brass sounds driven along by the rhythmic guitar; it is a fitting end to an exceptional collection.

https://www.facebook.com/mrbenandthebens/Album: Mr Ben & The Bens – Life Drawing review