A much-anticipated show at this fine all-purpose venue, opening tonight with the passionate performance and emotionally powerful ballads of Dan Owen. First track ‘Icarus’ immediately pulled the audience in and with his warm anecdotes and a barnstorming blues rendition of ‘Little Red Rooster’ he set the positive tone for the evening.
After many years of performing and a long career break, County Affair are a four-piece having a second life promoting an Abbey Road recorded album of a new batch of Americana songs. The tracks deal with eternal country music themes, joined with a likeable background of accordion, keys, guitar and percussion.
Ward Thomas started with the low-key duet ‘Dear Me’ and as soon as they segued into the descending vocal harmonies in the chorus of ‘No Fooling Me’ and the bitter-sweetness of ‘Cartwheels’ we knew that the emotional and musical magic was all in place. With varying amounts of input from their empathetic band this was a fantastic set, balanced between the pop oriented songs of 2019’s ‘Restless Minds’ album and the big country ballads such as ‘Guilty Flowers’ and the stomping ‘I Believe In You’ as well as the heart-tearing ‘Someday’ and ‘One More Goodbye’. With final encore ‘Safe’ performed as just a duo the show had gone full circle as the harmonies gently floated in the air.
A new single from Cambridge ensemble Tape Runs Out is a dreamy tribute to the bearded dragon belonging to lead singer Liam.
Starting with a hypnotic figure generated by the haunting sonics of the hammered dulcimer the track adds layers of acoustic texture to produce a stately paean to the precious pet ‘….Barry you know we’re here for you….Barry won’t you stay with us…’.
The song gently eases along but continues to build the boldness of the sound with strings, a guitar solo and overall a feeling of melancholy and lost prog-folk drifting off into the ether. Watching the video it doesn’t seem like the languid lizard is going to wander too far away anyway, but this track acts as a splendid showcase for the instrumental possibilities and otherworldly viewpoint of future recordings from this unique group of musicians.
A new single from singer/songwriter Jen Dixon, following on from the evocative ‘Which Way Is Down?’ from earlier this year. That was a wistful ballad; full of restrained intensity in the vocal, complemented by the haunting echoes of the production. The catchy chorus and spoken word break all added to the winning effect.
Now ‘Save Me’ further explores some darker thoughts and stretches more emotional heartstrings, along with showing her gift for composing a strong melody line and delivering it with conviction. As the chords descend the bleak picture is painted, ‘…standing on a knife edge….waiting to fall….’, but there are also threads of optimism in the repeated lines ‘….I want to know will you catch me if I fall…I want to know will you notice if I’ve gone…will you save me?….’. Jen’s recordings are self-produced; here the subtly crafted musical arrangement gently frames this fine song.
A track by track review of the debut LP from singer/songwriter Chloe Foy….
1.Where Shall We Begin. Setting the tone for the collection, an acoustic dreampop delight where the guitar shadows the vocal line. Gorgeous.
2.Deserve. A slow and longer meditation, peppered with restrained electric guitar, layers of vocal lines and gradual build up of atmosphere.
3.Work of Art. More tightly structured than some of the tracks, this compact pop song is driven by the insistent melody line; grounded by the bass, drums and empathetic guitar.
4.Evangeline. A definite favourite of mine, the musical triplets are joined by an endless selection of musical combinations as the stately melody serenely soars above with the sensual lyrics ‘…Evangeline…you are my queen I promise that I’ll keep you warm…’
5.Asylum. A prime example of the haunting-folk genre that Chloe inhabits, where the sonic textures of strings and harp complement the vocals perfectly, carefully arranged and produced by album collaborator Harry Fausing Smith.
6.Bones. Adrift on a becalmed sea, the rich vocal from Chloe is adorned by a dark and moody instrumental mix.
7.Shining Star. Uptempo, hypnotic and mysterious ‘…fears untold and false absolve be true to who you are…faster now, you’re dancing now…you’ll be my shining star…’
8.Left-Centred Weight. Previously released as a single this is a showcase for the smooth and mellow tones of Chloe’s voice as the languid strings emerge over the horizon and create a semi-orchestral extravaganza.
9.And It Goes. The longest track on the album, a free form late night jazzy-folk reverie with contrasting sections, unpredictable diversions and finally drifting off into the cosmos.
10.Square Face. Possibly saving the best till last, this is a timeless and traditional sounding folk melody over a reassuring background of strings and a waltzing piano. The unaccompanied vocal towards the end lingers long in the memory as an emotional representation of this superb album.
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 rewarding new EP from Leeds based The Harriets, the follow up to their 2021 album ‘Hopefuls’, reviewed here
1.Little Something. This timeless and catchy pop single immediately draws you into the band’s world, where the songs are so intricate and carefully layered that they fold in on themselves with ambiguity and nuance, ‘…I’ll write whatever you like….inspired by the things that you like….you only have to say the word…..the stars will come out of the sky….’. The uncluttered musical arrangement elegantly carries the track along.
2. Days Like These. Probably my favourite on the EP, the lush piano and strings orchestration is the platform for an outstanding ballad. The reflective nostalgia of the vocal subliminally interweaves aspects of Lou Reed’s namechecked ‘Perfect Day’ to gorgeous effect.
3. The Lie. Like an excerpt from a low-key stage musical this is a conversational interlude with a loose and intimate jazz tone, built around a recurring piano line.
4. Jessie’s Song. Led by semi-grandiose piano, this is a strangely addictive song, like track one it self referential about the songwriting art ‘…and the words all come out wrong that I have penned…why should I carry on and why pretend…’. The two voices trade harmonies and viewpoints giving spontaneity and surprise all the way through.
5. For You. In contrast to some of the musical flourishes of previous tracks this starts off as a simple and joyous love song ‘….last night you were on my mind….like you are all the time…’ before an extended playout featuring horns, piano, taut drums and percussion, vocal chorus and a guitar solo. All crammed into four minutes it is a rich and satisfying manifesto for the many facets of the band.
Always moving forward creatively, Derby based musician emzae adds a new single to her accomplished catalogue.
I have been listening back to many of her highlights (especially the textural beauty of ‘Another Lesson Learnt’ and the explosive tension of ‘As This Day Fades to Another (Rezzonator + Many Elephants Remix)’ ). The sublime 80s electrofunk confection of ‘Thrive’ burst out from lockdown last July and it is still sounding full of hooks and energy.
Now ‘Strip Lights’ places her narration in a gathering where perhaps she just doesn’t want to be, a metaphor for the confusion and unpredictability of modern social interaction; ‘…sit in the bar and listen, I just blur my vision, till the sparkles are just coloured dots…’ and ‘….I don’t want to be in this reality…‘. The lyric may tend towards the sombre but this is tempered by a moderate upbeat pace and the depth of production at which emzae excels.
From the welcoming introduction onward the layers of sound are complex and crafted, always framing the vocal to the right level. There is a recurring countermelody line, a bold flowering of synthesiser for the chorus and a bass groove that dances around underneath it all. It is another rewarding fusion of music, words and atmosphere, helped along by this performer’s unique vision for her work.
“…I definitely feel colour schemes when I’m listening to music, especially when I’m thinking of how artwork and visuals are going to look. I think of Strip Lights as green and orange…”
A new single from Redwood, a multi-talented singer/songwriter based in the Birmingham area. Her 2020 releases showed stylistic versatility and the subtle powers of her voice, with the late-night up tempo jazz of ‘The Radio’ and more recently the introspective musings, attractive melody and big chorus of ‘Honey Sauce’.
Now ‘Rewind’ feels more epic in its ambition. With just an ominous two chord piano introduction Redwood’s vocal breathes in with the enigmatic reminiscence of ‘…my hands are burned and scarred…’. This sets the scene for recollections and reflections around the idea of rewinding and being able to choose between repeating the actions or using life experiences to take a different course.
The piano settles into smooth triplets as the musical dynamics and tension of the song gradually build, controlled carefully over the four minutes of running time. Although essentially acoustic, the band reach an impressive crescendo by the end. Through it all Redwood’s vocals are the powerhouse of this outstanding song, whether quietly expressive, empathetically harmonising or letting loose and soaring all the way up to the heavens.
A new EP from Birmingham based indie-country singer/songwriter Charlotte Young, a follow-up to ‘Blown Away’, released last year.
1.Remedy. With its driving melody, crisp production and big chorus this is a strong opener to the EP. Charlotte keeps the lyrical ideas flowing, conversational in style and plainly setting out the emotions hidden behind the words as the band add depth and nuance.
2.On The Loose. Accidently turn up the distant radio speaker introduction and then you suddenly get the full blast of this energetic slice of country rock. Probably my favourite on the EP it is a full road movie in its three and a half minutes, as Charlotte delivers a winning vocal performance, with full credit also to the sparkling guitar and pedal steel from the band.
3.Praying for Rain. With the poignant opening lines ‘….staring at the driveway where you drove away….wondering how we made those same mistakes…’ this is the big ballad centrepiece of the EP, all building to the desperate resolution of the heartbreaking ‘…..I’m just sitting here praying for rain…’. The unexpected guitar solo, middle-eight and quiet restatement of the chorus all add contrasts to this fine song.
4.Early Light. This one moves along nicely, it has a relaxed pace with a subtle but insistent beat. The lyrical atmosphere created ‘…..coffee and conversations as we walk down town…’ sounds very inviting.
5.Whiplash – Acoustic. A new version of a track from Charlotte’s previous EP; it still has a fairly full instrumentation but with the acoustic guitar at the fore there is plenty of space for the vocal. The catchy chorus stays in your mind as this excellent collection comes to an end.
Singer/songwriter Léanie Kaleido released her debut album ‘Karamelien’ in 2005, ‘Quicksands and Shadows’ in 2014 and now this enigmatically titled new collection.
Her songs exist in a timeless flow of voices and waterfall piano, seeming to sound simultaneously intimate and broad in scope. Opener ‘All The Things I’m Made Of’ illustrates this perfectly as the dual vocal threads its magic through the echoing instrumentation, before returning to the impressionistic piano figure.
The pensive waltz of ‘Nobody’s Hero’ is a poetic character description with a spiralling chorus, then Léanie’s gentle voice reveals the mystery of the title track ‘…..do you really need to analyse…love is love it has no size…its like trying to weigh a whale without a scale…’. Four minutes of musings and meanderings interweave with the cyclical chord arrangement and harp sound to produce an effective and addictively gorgeous track.
I like the pastoral indie-folk sounds of ‘Mr Dragonfly’ along with the retro-fun of ‘Hat Thief’ where the acoustic guitar is to the fore. The emotional core of the album is probably the final two tracks, the heartbreak recollection and assertion of ‘Teapot Girl’ over stately layers of keyboards, followed by the clever melody, lyrical allusions and soaring chorus of ‘Kite String Mantra’.
Like a dense and rich forest it is an album of mystery and romance to completely lose yourself in.