The long-awaited new EP from acoustic indie-folk band Flaming June; driven by the compositions of singer/guitarist Louise Eatock. In the spirit of traditional folk themes of protest and comment these four excellent songs champion ‘…female spirits that break the mould…’
1. Firework Maker’s Daughter A mid-tempo rousing track, with the violin interweaving its magic through the acoustic guitar and restrained percussion. Based on a short story by Philip Pullman, Louise delivers an adventurous lyric that on the surface describes the title character aspiring to follow an unconventional career path but spreads into broader imagery of justice and ambition.
2. Oblivion Instantly conjuring up images from Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ and edgier parts of historic novels this brisk music takes the listener into the midst of communities where the downtrodden escape from a difficult real life in the 19th Century. Short instrumental punctuations, an excellent double-tracked vocal, the dense texture of the violin again and especially a chorus of ‘…laudanum lovers love like no other…but they can’t remember how it feels…’ lift the three minutes into something special.
3. Drunken Assassin A lighter and more upbeat atmosphere musically but the words move into dark territory of introspection on loneliness and addiction within a relationship. The lyric pulls no punches ‘…if only you weren’t drinking yourself half to death we could live happily ever after…’
4. Women’s Battalion The pivotal track on the EP, a commemoration of the centenary of the 1918 general election, the first election following the enfranchisement of middle-class women over the age of 30. It was also the first time that working class men, although not working class women, were allowed to vote, so the song includes the continuation of the struggle for equality, extending it as far as the present day. The relentless marching pace of the song and spirited vocal performance push all before it, with fine contributions from cajón and violin.
As a final prelude to a new LP ‘Motus Octo’ in November, Cambridge quartet Bouquet Of Dead Crows release an alternative version of the album’s second track.
The phrase “the good God is in the detail” is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert, but less certain is the author of its satanic counterpart. Whatever the origin the Crows have turned it into a hookline for a stately slice of highly-charged rock. Making full use of the stereo separation in the mix, Neil Bruce’s dissonant guitar in the introduction lays down the devil’s own riff, the bass and drums crash in and away we go.
Many diversions and subsections come and go and masquerade as new directions for the song before it keeps returning to that ultra-catchy title line. There is even time for a quick guitar solo, a bit of stabilising bass and a genuinely different middle-eight.
The angelic voice of Antoinette Cooper is the serene influence on this organised mayhem, leading the way over musicians at the heavenly height of their noisy powers.
The band are launching the album with a show at the Blue Moon in Cambridge on 24th November, with other shows being added. See you there!
Following on from a release of double track single ‘Baby Listen Here’/’I Go Crazy’ last month on which self-described ’21st Century Singing Cowboy’ Jack Rundell unleashed his inner Hank Williams with two up-tempo stompers he now follows with new track ‘Stinking Cloud’.
I don’t think Hank would recognise the subject matter of this ode to the human impact on the natural world but he would probably identify with the thread of resigned disappointment interwoven in the music and lyrics.
Over a bass guitar, low-fi keyboard and glockenspiel Jack wanders ‘….lonely as a stinking cloud…’, keeps his cowboy credibility with ‘….wondered lonely as the tumble weeds…‘ and brings the references more up to date with ‘….a cloud of mustard gas and microbeads….’.
It is a gem of a song, with a catchy chorus, at least two key changes and an accompanying video in the Suffolk countryside featuring some neat backwards photography, so what’s not to like?
(The mood of the song also reminded me to re-listen to classic Talking Heads reverse-environmentalism classic ‘Nothing But Flowers’…!)
Jonathan Beckett is a singer/songwriter/guitarist, revisiting some of his earliest work with his band Moscow Circus.
This new recording of a song from 1987 shows the timeless appeal of his work; he is not afraid to challenge with his thoughtful lyrics, this time using various train metaphors as a platform(!) for philosophical musings on mortality and destiny. The messages are wrapped in some surreal imagery, as demonstrated in depth on his 2016 long-player ‘Resounding’, previously reviewed on this site.
On this excellent outing he is given formidable backing by Peter Temperton on bass and Tom Parratt on drums, with Jonathan providing extra keyboard texture to counterpoint the serpentine guitar figure around which the song is built. The wordplay is used to good effect throughout the song and particularly in the hooklines of the chorus ‘…the pain in my head is a train running red…life’s so short anyway…it sure stops me dead in my tracks….’
There is the possibility of two more songs to rescue from the archive and then hopefully some new material and more live dates to follow….
California has always held a semi-mythic status as a destination in pop music, with fine songs from The Mamas And The Papas, Beach Boys, Wedding Present, Gomez and many others.
Now Ely duo Elma have added to the list with an uplifting prelude to their soon to be released album. Although many of their songs and their live shows are just guitar and vocals, here they have gone for a full-band instrumentation with horns, multi-tracking and some sparkling drumming. Starting with some sinister backwards guitar, the main brass-driven riff soon establishes itself as a platform for another strong vocal performance from Ellie Gillett.
Repeated listens reveal more and more neat touches in the excellent production, no doubt with many of the instruments played by Mark Ellis. A spoken middle-eight has that strange guitar sound effect again but then we finish suddenly, the narrator never gets there, maybe never leaves their home town and will unfortunately not find that ‘….our sugar coated dreams will come true….’
Check out the accompanying video too, with faded retro beach and fairground images…
Cambridge acoustic/electric performer Gavin Chappell-Bates has returned to a cosmological theme first incorporated into one of his early compositions ‘Black Holes’; this time he has moved beyond linking celestial metaphors with a personal relationship crisis and broadened his scope to look far beyond the Earth.
He envisages the departure of post-apocalypse humans to rebirth in the distant galaxies – a bold theme to tackle indeed, a bit like the classic 1950s sci-fi novel ‘Childhood’s End’. This is one of the final tracks on his recent concept album ‘The Last One’, a climatic ‘lighters in the air moment’ big ballad contrasting with some of the rockier numbers on the LP.
Beginning with simple and calm acoustic guitar, Gavin delivers a poignant vocal performance, then as on many of his songs the hook-line chorus lifts and gives the real emotional punch. Other instruments gradually appear in the mix, with sustained electric guitar notes, faraway echoing percussion and strings filling out the sound until the spirit of the song drifts away into the distance.
Gavin has always put a lot of effort into accompanying videos; this time the lyrics are superimposed over stunning images of outer space as a contrast to some of the worst excesses on Earth. In a week where some of the profound words of the late Stephen Hawking were transmitted towards the nearest black hole a song like this really makes you think.
A new single from Cambridge based trio Carolyn’s Fingers, making sounds unlike anyone else on the local scene.
Following on from recent release ‘Her Howl’ and a live showcase at the Portland Arms, they continue to tantalise and weave magic with a heady brew of unpredictable sonic textures and cryptic lyrics. This time bringing the mythological character of Dionysus to life (‘…described as the Olympian god of wine, vegetation, pleasure, festivity, madness and wild frenzy…’), who my researches show to be a major cult figure of ambiguity and multi-interpretations. This god is also known as Bacchus and sometimes given the epithet Eleutherios (“the liberator”), mentioned in the song and also the name of an earlier demo version of this track.
Beginning with a heartbeat, the pure vocal leads through, punctuated by keyboard clicks and distant effects before the guitar chimes in and takes over. A quieter section sounds almost like a Gregorian chant, sung in Spanish (and a made-up language?). That echoing guitar re-asserts itself as it all builds to a finale, controlled on the surface but with a frenzied undercurrent.
Quite how they achieve this hypnotic and distinctive sound with such minimal instrumentation is an enigma in itself, but with their own production skills (and cover artwork too) they are the complete package.