First onstage was US singer/songwriter Samantha Crain, a performer with a quiet authority evident from the first track ‘Joey’; a languid leisurely waltz with the gentle instrumentation as a perfect platform for her rich vocals. The tempo was increased for ‘Pastime’ and through her short set her accompanying musician played pedal steel, second guitar and keys to add extra colour to the involving narrative strengths of the songs. A highlight was the emotive tale told in ‘Elk City’, sung to a solo guitar as her overall performance effortlessly won over the audience.
The Staves create an intimate and welcoming musical atmosphere; opening song ‘Failure’ features the harmonies and indie folk rock ambience that instantly draws the listener in. Sisters Camilla and Jessica (Emily is currently not touring) are joined by an empathetic band that knows how much to push the sound forward or keep in the background more for a track like ‘Good Woman’; the title song from the 2021 album that makes up most of the set.
The songs can move into moody territory like the walk through a dark forest of ‘Blood I Bled’ or luxuriate in the deceptively simple beauty of ‘Make It Holy’. It all flew by in a delicious haze of ethereal melody and musical textures, a triumphant performance after too long away..
A collection of songs from Adam Sherif and Julia Oertli, also known as London-based indie duo th’sheridans, celebrating plenty of their back catalogue of addictive ‘incongru-pop‘.
The bleakly atmospheric ‘Cabot Cove’ from 2014 opens the listings then the words and music of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Dismembered’ pull the listener right into their world as the two and a bit chords punch and roam. ‘Welcome To Town, Pussycats’ has the guitar voice and drums racing each other in a winning combination before ‘Architecture’ is a cleverly twisted social commentary ending with a emotive viola solo from Julia.
‘Hot Day in 20-05’ is one of my favourites; a compact mix of pace, pathos and bursts of electric mayhem, flowing nicely into the similar atmosphere of pre-released single ‘Awesome Summers & Kate’. ‘Ashley Is A Geek’ is a Ramones style mini rock opus, contrasting with the folk-powered guitar of ‘A Quiet Year’.
And there is much much more, the fourteen tracks constantly varying in tone and pushing the minimal instrumentation in all directions, culminating in the finale ‘Keep Warm’ where Adam’s vocals carry the restrained reflection and regret of the lyric with conviction.
The album is a heartwarming, rich and fun compilation of thoughtful but edgy DIY pop.
A new single from Derby quartet The Bagatelles is a likeable slice of summery power pop, from the jumpy electric guitar line that is a welcome intervention throughout the song, to the wistful lyric evoking past times but always with a thoughtful optimism. This is set out in simple and affectionate terms in the middle eight, ‘….I want you and you want me with all the vulnerability….well take it slow though time goes fast…’. Musically the band deliver a crisp indie rock sound; full of light and shade and there is constantly something interesting to catch your attention.
I previously reviewed their 2019 single ‘Point Of View’ which was built around a simple echoing guitar figure and used the cosmic references to emphasise the emotion in the lyric, ‘…. you’re in my orbit girl and you’re voice I can’t help but listen…. I want to be your sun….I’ll be your galaxy…..’. It may have been heavily ironic or tinged with later regret but taken at face value it was straight to the heart, just like this new track.
The band are building up a catalogue of attractive songs and hopefully they will soon be able to cement their live reputation for immediacy and energy.
A new EP from London quartet Bitch Hunt, following on from their split EP with adults in 2020, featuring the incisive ’23’ and the lo-fi high-concept pop art of ‘Spaceman’ (complete with fun video!)
Opener ‘Out of Eden’ is built around a descending chord sequence that arrives as if from a distant horizon before the arresting lyric sets the sombre tone ‘….under the apple tree…is where I was when he found me…’. The full four-piece sound is dissonant and disturbing to go with the implied subject matter but the music is punctuated with gentler interludes. ‘Identity Clinic’ is a punkier track and shows off the ability of the band to mix up the musical styles from distorted funk guitar under the catchy chorus to a sprawling instrumental workout at the end.
‘Eau Claire’ was previously released as a single and the companionship and water themes seem to carry an undercurrent of darkness, ‘…two died in the river that year…dull water…filled with parasites…’. It could be a companion track to cult classic ‘Next of Kin’ by indie dreamers Alvvays.
‘Shapeshifter’ is probably my favourite, a plaintively sung lyric, ‘….nice to meet you… sometimes I wish I could be you …sometimes I could eat you…’ as the guitar and bass lines quietly jump around. The drums and vocal harmonies control the dynamics of the song, until a short jazz influenced coda. Bonus track ‘I Wanna Be Un/Happy’ pulls many aspects of the band’s music together for a brooding and echoing finale, raising the noise level when the chorus kicks in.
This is a satisfying, energetic and thoughtful EP full of wit, warmth and wisdom.
A highly regarded performer at shows around the West Midlands, Bryony Williams now releases a re-imagining of some of her earlier work – opening with ‘Little Tree’, a song described as ‘….a reminder that everything is temporary, including your current self….’. That may be a downbeat concept to address, but nevertheless this is a life-affirming, celebratory folk-rock piece with layers of insistently rhythmic guitar, sparkling drums and a sensuous vocal performance that brings the lyric fully to life.
The words place the narrator and us in a continuing circle of eco-life ‘…as the Earth turns….’, ‘…..little tree springs forth from little seeds…’ and similar sentiments are thoughtfully described and subtly delivered, especially when the instrumentation slows and quietens during the chorus. It is an excellent track, the richness and depth increasing with each listen.
The short ambient/spoken atmospheric rush of ‘Tell Me’ links to ‘Silhouette’. Strangely soothing, this is a dark and moody piece about the end of a relationship. The poignant verses resolve into a strong chorus line as the gathering storm of dissonant guitar and synths build, despite a deceptively playful guitar figure floating above and appearing to mark the passing of time.
It is a contrast to the lead track so the package presents itself musically as a retro double ‘A- side’ single, along with a new long-form video due to be premiered soon….
Frequently reviewed on this site, roisterous London powerpunks Fightmilk release their sparkling new album….
Lucky Coin : After a brief linking introduction this track means business, as the mix melds the band together into a sharp backing for a post break-up tale of uncertainty ‘….yes I’m building something new…..and I’m a lucky coin, I just flip myself back over…’
Hey Annabelle! : An underused name in pop songs, this was a pre-released single and another energetic burst of pop delight with an edge ‘….Annabelle if you see her, can you check if anybody is there….please don’t make it too obvious because I definitely don’t care…’
I’m Starting to Think You Don’t Ever Want To Go Into Space : full review here
The Absolute State Of Me : A lyric of self-doubt inhabits the 1970s sounding production of this gleaming pop gem, which could be my favourite track on the LP. Savour the middle eight ‘….you’d look just like your picture…I wouldn’t be so useless…’ and the lively instrumental playout.
Girls Don’t Want to Have Fun : This is the more pensive side of Fightmilk, with the addition of strings, keys and drum machine sounds to create a platform for some surreal imagery in Lily’s vocal ‘…..when we talk about dying it feels like a pipe dream…. I can be your guinea pig baby…. I can make you like me….’
Cool Cool Girl : Recalling the quartet’s early EPs this is a mighty powerpop explosion with a wittily acerbic lyric delivered with conviction, great answering vocal backing from the band and a killer chorus.
Banger #4 : Drum driven spectacular, with full-on adventurous bass lines and molten guitar lines duelling with a big vocal, all adding up to the accurate description of the title.
You Are Not the Universe : Another character dissection, gradually building in lyrical complexity until the pay-off of ‘…the plays unread…the script is unrehearsed….but you’ve made your bed and you are not the universe…’
Maybe : With some instrumental link sections as brief respite this album does not lose forward momentum, even after the calmer acoustic introduction this track becomes another punchy anthem with a playful but lingering short phrase melody line that flawlessly hits the spot.
Overbite : This is a classy pre-released single, complete with animated video and distilling many of the elements of the band into the perfect blend. Over the dynamite bass line the lyric weaves a clever obsessional spell summed up in the chorus ‘….I think you’re cool….I like your overbite…’.
Long awaited and anticipated, Fightmilk have delivered another excellent collection of noisy pop gold.
A re-imagining of the Such Small Hands (singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Melanie Howard) release from September last year, now featuring just voice and guitar. Packaged as a limited CD edition of 150, each in a unique hand-painted sleeve to hold the precious cargo of these ethereal songs.
The original versions had the extra dimensions of changing keyboard and vocal treatments but on this new album the guitar sets a distinctive tone for each track. There are the gently strummed chords for the unhurried opening meditation of ‘Lonely Is The Rain’, followed by the hypnotic triplets throughout ‘Do I Belong Here?’ and the fast walking urgency of the steps in ‘Drifter’.
In all of the tracks it is Melanie’s voice that is the key; listen to the vocal performance on the timeless waltz of ‘O Patient One’, it is like the gentle unwinding of a silk thread. Sometimes extra harmonies augment the raw recording – used to great effect on the counterpoint chorus of ‘Electric Touch’ and the waterfall of music and voices of ‘Why Am I Like This?’.
Title track ‘Carousel’ retains the otherworldly atmosphere of the original in this sparsely layered version while ‘Anhedonia’ is starkly beautiful. Bonus track ‘Ghost’ sinuously brings the gorgeous collection to a graceful end.
This is the compelling new EP from Birmingham singer/songwriter/instrumentalist Graywave, (the performing name of Jess Webberley) following a string of creative singles released since 2019.
1.Dreaming. With a relaxed introduction the vocal soon sails in, with the guitars then extracting every ounce from the gliding swoop between the two chords that most of the song is built around. The vocal is luxuriant and elated and the final minute coda when the band let loose is an extra gift.
2.Swallow. Deeper and darker from the outset, but resolving into the insistent and memorable chorus lines.
3.Planetary Shift. Dreamy, haunting centrepiece of the collection with the vocal washing up on the seashore of atmospheric guitar, white noise and piano. The song remains fluid and changing, coalescing into firmer structures then back into an amorphous mix. Probably my favourite track on the EP.
4.Like Heaven. Multiple layers of sound are wrenched from the decibel dense guitar as the drums languidly punctuate the pace. Jess’s vocal soars through the mix; deliberately not escaping but melding into the whole.
5.Before. This addresses the subject of anxiety in the lyric while musically building on a mysterious, echoing cyclical countermelody. This blends with a percussive pattern that starts and stops like an expiring heartbeat. The final minute is a rich explosion of sound; this track crams volumes of emotion and highly charged dynamics into its short run time.
Olive Beardmore is a multi-talented singer/songwriter from Birmingham, who started releasing music in 2017. Earlier tracks were untreated indiepop gems, especially the collision of words and staccato guitars on ‘Sirens’. There was the wistful six minute balladry of ‘Jumpers For Goalposts’, before the dreamier territory of ‘Fiesta’ in 2020 featuring a video full of disconnection, ambiguous glances and hazy backgrounds. This impressively frames this fine song to great effect, with the restrained verses and big waterfall of guitar that engulfs the choruses.
Now ‘With The Heavens On Your Side (You)’, Oliver has stayed in that partial dream world, this time upping the pace and creating a rich production that shimmers and echoes, giving the track a bright and crisp veneer, including a surprise guitar solo.
The vocal delivery is a winner, blending fully into the spectrum of the other instruments but always leading the track. Resolving into the key lines ‘…because its you and I always knew…’ the chorus sounds genuine and celebratory, a bit reminiscent of some of the popgold moments of early Keane singles.
A new EP of indie light and shade from talented London trio Gold Baby, following on from a creative string of singles over the last couple of years.
1.Bodie Serene, shimmering guitar drives this track as the vocal from songwriter Siân cajoles and soars. The overall feeling seems to be one of alienation and disappointment but it is all beautifully done.
2. 2041 The quiet, agitated introduction and verses make you want to decode what is going on in this track ‘…there’s a man screaming in the hallway…and I can’t hear myself think…’ but when it gives way to a very noisy chorus you are carried along anyway.
3. Betty Previously released as a single this is a strange mixture of fantasy imagery with a sinister undertone ‘….let me tell you what happened…somebody ate my mother’s lipstick…somebody tried to read my palm….somebody called me….Cinderella so I hit the fire alarm….’. Musically the song structure pulls you in with its dramatic flourishes and winning melody lines.
4. Captain Dorego My favourite track on the collection, lyrical dreams to escape into ‘….carp fishing maybe bass…out of the stream ourselves at last…as idyllic as it seems….’ sit alongside darker thoughts ‘….can I sing in the small church choir…..fill it up with gasoline….light a match and wait for you to scream…’. It is a delicate treat, the words floats above gentle guitar with bass and drums that handle the poly-rhythmic backing perfectly. The song has its own dance too (see video link below)….