A new single from UK singer/songwriter Hannah Rose Kessler, a preview of her EP due in March.
Previous release ‘I Really Wanna’ was a hazy meandering where the vocal and harmonies spun jazzy lines on top of amiable guitar, acoustic bass and quiet percussion. A track that pulled the listener into a warming but slightly dissonant world.
Now ‘Come Feel Me’ brings martial percussion to the fore, hollow and unrelenting over deep and fuzzy bass pedals. The vocal seems isolated in the quite bleak wasteland of the music where there may be the optimism of ‘….colours changing in the sky…’ but soon the realisation of ‘…..so lonely, I’m lonely, we’re lonely….’. Halfway through the track adds some huge slices of industrial guitar before the loneliness and the plea of the title phrase gradually fades away.
On repeated listens you realise that this is a real grower and that underneath the harsh exterior this is a smart, intricately structured pop song. Hannah writes and plays music which is not trapped in a narrow genre; on the basis of these two tracks the EP should be an intriguing listen.
With roots in Canada and Coventry, singer/songwriter YNES tells it direct. Her 2020 EP ‘Sit Down, Grow up’ featured the minimalist music supporting a flow of lyrical ideas in the less than two minute delight of ‘Im(Mature)’. The inverted relationship song ‘Pretty Sure’ has the words accumulate and build to a restrained frenzy of bitterness, ‘….I’m pretty sure she’s not the one that broke my heart…..that girl is not my enemy today….’ then moves into the likeable ennui of ‘All I Do(Dream of You)’ where ‘….all I do is sit around and wait for you….’
New single ‘Better Job’ takes inspiration from the ill-judged government campaign to reject lifetime training and ambition in creative industries to become something more ‘useful’ to society. YNES turns this into a loose and noisy tirade, where the music can barely keep pace with her exhausting streams of words and ideas.
Punk poet, performance artist, art rocker – YNES hits the spot.
The UK Country/Americana scene continues to flourish, with performers like singer/songwriter Harriet Rose in the vanguard. Her previous single ‘Small Town Chains’ was a positive, rousing anthem – a re-assertion of one of the standard themes of country music; leaving the limitations of hometown roots in pursuit of musical ambition. The confident performance with the storyline brought to life in the accompanying video was a convincing debut.
On her excellent new release ‘Love Me Like That’ Harriet has slowed the pace – with the delicate opening setting the framework of the song ‘…sitting in another bar, waiting for it all to close…knowing that you’re out with her…’. The acoustic guitar is joined by a quietly played banjo and the music moves in and out of an almost full band sound.
It is a sombre song, edged with melancholy and questioning ‘….was there something that I could have done?….’. The carefully placed lines continue to build up in layers, overlapping through the loose melodic structure, as does the varied instrumental backing. Harriet’s plaintive, tender vocal lays the emotion out for all to hear, given a break by a short guitar solo before the song quietens again to make the regrets and emotions of the lyrics crystal clear.
Timeless and placeless, ‘Solid Heart’ is a gentle meditation appropriate to a season of cold and consideration, with some hints of optimism too. Chicago based singer/instrumentalist/producer Gia Margaret has taken a straightforward chord sequence, added electronics and piano embellishments and a voice that is hardly there; almost ghostly but still able to drive the song along. The overall effect is calmly breath-taking.
Gia describes her music as ‘sleep rock’ and on previous release ‘Barely There’ the atonal synth background joined with a spoken vocal to create an emotionally rich soundscape; on her other 2020 single ‘apathy’ hypnotic arpeggios threaded their way through dreamier territory with no horizon in sight. This was paired with ‘body’, a sampled lecture on physical self-awareness that raised more questions than answers, as the electronic sequencing danced along, beguiling and rewarding.
The debut single from Cambridge band Apteekii starts with a gentle but moody piano punctuated by restless electronic pulses. The lyric soon sets the tone of the message of this track with the bleak ‘….just another Saturday…as you scream into the void…..alI I hear is birds that tweet….’. It is portraying a swirling mix of the pernicious influences of fake news, distorted messages and the exploitation of negative social media. This is chillingly shown by the infamous comments that scroll behind the song words within the video.
It is not all downbeat – despite the despairing ‘….the more I read, the less I see, the less I understand…’ of the chorus the music sounds more optimistic. It is lifted by layers of synthesiser with a rich cello sound and there are glimmers of hope; ‘…so be my guide…to know what’s right…before it’s washed away…’ could be a fragment from a tender love song.
This is a complex, immaculately produced and thoughtful debut from this talented trio.
Continuing the build-up to an EP later this year Graywave, the performing name of Birmingham singer/songwriter Jess Webberley, releases a final preview single. In many ways this is a companion piece that climbs down from the all-out onslaught of ‘Like Heaven’ back in December 2020. On that track multiple layers of sound were wrenched from the decibel dense guitar as the drums languidly punctuated the pace. Jess’s vocal soared through the mix; deliberately not escaping but melding into the whole.
Now new song ‘Before’ addresses the subject of anxiety in the lyric while musically building on a mysterious, echoing guitar line. This blends with a percussive pattern that starts and stops like an expiring heartbeat. The final minute is a rich explosion of sound; perhaps contrarily described as ‘#ambient’ on Soundcloud this track crams volumes of emotion and highly charged dynamics into its short run time.
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…
From the introductory guitar footsteps in the snow and sleigh-bell beat there is no mistaking the intention of this gorgeous seasonal offering from Elma. Rhiannon’s pure and natural voice sets the scene ‘….it’s gonna feel strange to celebrate this year…. but I still think we should…’. and we soon get to the perfectly judged hookline ‘….send love this Christmas…it isn’t hard to do….and love will come right on back to you…’. Mark adds layers of ringing guitar lines and backing vocals to an uncluttered, retro and timeless mix. There is a winning middle-eight and by the end the duo have proved once again that their melodic command, vocal delivery and pop song construction is impeccable.
Jo Ash has created an atmospheric song drawing on images of lost battlefields, forgotten heroes and lingering memories. In her emotional tale of farewells she uses echoing, repeating piano figures and orchestral synthesisers to generate a tense, dramatic backing to her soaring vocals.
Lyrically and musically evoking a dark season, ‘…..look up to the diamond sky…..a blanket of a million miles….encompassing you and I….’, but there is still hope ‘….I’ll never be too far from home….’. Finally there is reflection ‘….. I hear the words he said to me as I recall those winter nights…..as we made paper cards around the tree, and sang Silent Night….’.
So ideally sat in front of the fire with mulled wine in hand; slow down, hibernate and listen to this affecting track, contemplating the unchanging rhythms of the winter solstice.
A fun song with a serious message from singer/songwriter Louise Eatock, who usually performs in the indie-folk band Flaming June and now releases this single as a one-off with group The Eli Lillies.
The profits are going to mental health charities and the essence of the lyric is clear in an effort to remove the stigma of necessary treatment ; ‘…..’cause with the right medication…Christmas can be such a fun celebration…’.
Louise can always turn a neat phrase in her compositions and ‘……Christmas can be fun and I will show you how…so take a mood stabilizer for your breakfast….and an anti-anxiety tablet for tea……pop an anti-depressant when you open your presents….’ pulls no punches with a great balance of humour too. Musically it is a real treat, a sort of vigorous folk/punk mix up with crashing noise suddenly giving way to sleigh bells and 60s harmonies. Enjoy the celebratory energy of the video too!
The last single from London based singer/songwriter Dexy was the seasonal ‘Xmas Lights’ in 2018, an affecting meditation on love and loss with bittersweet lyrics such as ‘….I can’t stand another Christmas alone…’ or ‘….I’m blowing out all the candles…pushed your presents back under the bed….’. That may seem a bit downbeat but it is strangely uplifting especially when the full band sound kicks in.
Now new release ‘Drop Your Hand’ arrives, a precursor to his second long-player in early 2021. This is more up-tempo, driven along by rhythm guitar and featuring Hammond organ textures and a persistent drum pulse from collaborator Steve.
Dexy’s vocal delivery has a purity that is laced with tension and reflection ‘…..getting older takes no effort at all….but getting kinder?…that’s a task too tall…’. It is appropriate to the dismissive tone of some of the words, describing that the only way out of the difficult situation is just ‘moving on’. This is summarised concisely in the final stanza ‘……tried to walk together….but you’ve got some way to go…and we could talk forever….and you’d still say you don’t know….so drop your hand, I’ll burn this bridge alone…’.
The metre of the final phrase could be a musical nod to ‘I’ll Sail My Ship Alone’ made popular by Hank Williams or the similarly titled hit by The Beautiful South. As in those songs, the reluctant optimism in ‘Drop Your Hand’ is underpinned by melancholy and a memorable melody; this would make a strong opening track for the forthcoming album…?
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…