Tag Archives: pop

Jackie Beverly : Sea Glass, single released November 2020

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.

https://www.facebook.com/jackiebeverlymusic/

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CARRON : Borrowed Life, released November 2020

There are two versions of this song from CARRON. The original track released last month is a mellow and soothing electropop track full of rippling arpeggios weaved through ethereal vocals from multi-instrumentalist sisters Méabh & Mella Carron. The keyboards have a significant but not dominant presence, especially when dancing around the bass pedalled notes during the chorus and the key lines ‘…..if I borrowed a life would I question myself….would it change what I felt…’ . There is even a bit of gentle synth soloing before the multi-layer harmonies bring the song to a close.

Now CARRON have re-interpreted their own song for a ‘Live in Lockdown’ alternative. Beginning with a repeated figure like autumnal birdsong the unadorned folk-based combination of violin and piano carries the backing with the subtlest of electric guitar enhancement. The sisters draw true beauty from the melody when singing solo, in unison or with harmonies.

The stripped-back and slowed down mix emphasises the wintery cadences of the arrangement, performed in a candlelit setting it is a gorgeous combination of voices and music.

https://www.carronmusic.com/

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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/

Ward Thomas : Invitation, LP released October 2020

The fourth album from alt-country duo Ward Thomas sees them infusing their sound with contemporary pop to great effect. Opener ‘Sweet Time’ is as uplifting a track as you could hear; especially with the accompanying video of the sisters and friends cycling on a summer day and when they are singing ‘……sipping on champagne stars and slowing down the speed of light…’ all is indeed well with the world.

‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ and ‘Open Your Mind’ keep the pace up but the waltzing ‘Someday’ stops the show. It is a torch song fully using the gorgeous harmonies that roll up to a summit before fading away then reaching the big string-backed chorus ‘….don’t say you love me yet…darling I’m still too scared…’. Gorgeous.

‘Meant To Be Me’ and ‘Hold Space’ are reflections of aspects of current chart pop with acapella interlude ‘Dear Me’ showcasing the voices again. ‘Wait Up’ recalls aspects of their earlier albums sound while full-on Bond theme ‘My Favourite Poison’ is a sweeping strings soundscape.

The last two tracks are quiet and thoughtful with the sisters delicate and gentle harmonies in the forefront of the mainly acoustic backings.

There is more – three bonus cover versions, starting with ‘Halfway’, a rousing duet with James Blunt and a song reminiscent of Ward Thomas crowd pleasers at their live shows. ‘Human’ with Jack Savoretti is a countrified live rendition of The Killers’ song with an angelic vocal arrangement and the finale of Fleetwood Mac classic ‘Landslide’ is as good as a cover of a classic song should be.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.co.uk/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2020/06/21/ward-thomas-the-space-between-ep-released-june-2020/

https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

Invitation
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Fightmilk : If You Had A Sister…, single released 4th September 2020

A new single from powerpunk quartet Fightmilk, a precursor to their second album which is now due in early 2021. Singer Lily has been treading a quieter emotional line with the release of an EP by her alter ego ‘Captain Handsome’ and this track is a bit of a crossover between that work and the full-on Fightmilk recordings. The band have a knack of setting an emotional tone with their music and then in the words fixating on an aspect of the theme, building up the tension obsessively until it overwhelms.

In this lyric the dark-edged insecurities flow ‘…she’s so confident, confident… and we look so alike…’, to the discontent of ‘…I’ve been cheering you on from the sidelines…you’ve been running around like a pro…its not the seventies any more and you say its a shame…’ Finally resolving into the repeated pay-off ‘…maybe if you had a sister you wouldn’t be this way…’. This is another excellent vocal performance from Lily, full of nuance and emotion.

The words hold your attention but it is the music that eventually wins over. Starting with a 1980s calming bass and drum beat the guitars subtly appear before stretching out with short solos and before the end an insurmountable bank of glorious noise. There is a piano somewhere in there too. It is a departure for the band and along with previous release ‘I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space’ hints at richness to come on the new LP.

https://www.facebook.com/fightmilkisaband/
https://recklessyes.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2020/04/01/fightmilk-im-starting-to-think-you-dont-even-want-to-go-to-space-single-released-march-2020/

Dream Nails : ‘Dream Nails’, LP released 28 August 2020

This is the long-awaited first album from London quartet Dream Nails, a glorious amalgam of rage, fun, protest and emotion; reminding you just how good their live shows are.
Interspersing the tracks with short spoken ‘skits’ to introduce songs and keep the momentum going it is a concise 24 minutes, full of insight and energy.

From the start, you are pulled into their world as the celebratory holiday sound of ‘Jillian’ flows into the bitter twists of the workplace in ‘Corporate Realness’. Whatever the messages, the bass sound and drum dynamics are off the scale. The lyrical ideas keep coming, but it is also their music that pushes forward; when I have seen them live the meticulous attention to their set up and sound pays dividends and this production has captured that as-live atmosphere.

The razor-sharp bass and surf-rock guitar splendour of ‘Swimming Pool’ is frenetically followed by ‘This Is the Summer’ which manages to celebrate the season as well as weave a strong environmental theme through the perfect structure of a powerpop single. Watch the video too to see the band performing in a scrapyard, wrestling with a giant frog and footage of climate demonstrations.

‘Payback’ has caustic riffs, a soaring echoing guitar and an excellent wide-ranging vocal performance in thoughtful quieter sections and then unleashed full-on.

‘In Other News’ introduces one of the most disturbing news items from last year, when homophobic taunting on a London bus led to assault. The band’s explosive response pulls no punches; ‘Kiss My Fist’ is musically and lyrically a very powerful track.

Catch them live when you can, in the meantime enjoy this scorching debut LP!

https://www.facebook.com/yourdreamnails
https://ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com/bands/dreamnails
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/06/25/the-baby-seals-blue-moon-cambridge-22-june-2019/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2017/11/21/indiepop-all-dayer-blue-moon-cambridge-18-november-2017/

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/

Madison Fiorenza : Fever Dream, single released July 2020

A new single from Midlands based singer/songwriter Madison Fiorenza is a welcome slice of bluesy atmosphere, pervaded by a feel of darkening evenings and large open horizons. The delivery and tone of the opening line ‘…I wrap my eyes around you…you look at me like I’m in distress…’ seems to reference the much covered “I Put a Spell on You”, the 1956 classic torch song by “Screamin’ Jay” Hawkins, and immediately draws the listener inexorably into Madison’s world.

The combination of acoustic and echoing electric instruments creates the texture, but at the heart of this track is a carefully structured pop song where the stealthy verses set up a killer chorus ‘…like a fever dream, seeping through the cracks in my quicksand mind…’.
The musicians do a great job of balancing their contribution to the track, but the central vocal performance from Madison is the key as it glows with relaxed emotion, enhanced by some light and airy harmonies in the chorus.

This is an impressive debut from a promising new talent.

Emzae : Thrive, single released 31 July 2020

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.

https://emzaemusic.com/about

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Ward Thomas : The Space Between, EP released June 2020

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.

https://www.wardthomasmusic.com/
https://www.danowenmusic.com/
https://cambridgemusicreviews.net/2019/03/03/ward-thomas-junction-cambridge-1-march-2019/

 

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