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 new collaboration between Cambridge musician Gavin Chappell-Bates and electro dance music producer Charlie Howell, Star Pixel release their first single. The duo’s name may be an amalgam of macro and micro scales but this sound is unreservedly big, brash and full of the passion that Gavin Chappell-Bates always brings to his singing performances, no doubt influenced by his favourite band the Manic Street Preachers whose album has a cameo in the accompanying video.
Brilliantly edited by collaborator Karen Cann, the multiple visual images featured are rapid jump cuts of real life circles from the natural world, sound technology and art. It is as exhaustingly frenetic as the music and works like a hypnotic spell to complement and pull you into the track. As the unrelenting drive of the guitars duel with the giant electro beats, the lyrics culminate in an extensive list including ‘…. criminals, dreamers, lovers and leaders…peacemakers, instigators and the non-believers…step right up, step right in…’ who would all be welcome to join ‘The Circle’…
There will be many more 2021 releases from this highly creative duo, who classify their music as ‘Electro-GrungeStep’…
Flaming June releases a new single, ahead of an album called ‘Hope in a Jar’ due in the autumn of 2021. From her lockdown attic songwriter Louise Eatock has carefully crafted a follow-up to her 2018 release ‘The Women’s Battalion’, a timely reminder of the historic struggle to improve the inequalities of the voting system one hundred years ago. Musically it was restless and urgent, with the powerful rhythm guitar duelling with the incisive violin from collaborator Alex Herring. That intensity and music combination carries into this new song; a fast paced likeable folk soundtrack to a very dark tale.
Daniel Dawson was hanged in 1812 in Cambridge (in front of a crowd of 12,000 people as it was market day in the city!?) for poisoning race horses at Newmarket. Louise’s lyrics tell the courtroom story and see Daniel as the scapegoat for unseen powerful figures ‘…just swallow down that bitter pill…I’m just one cheat among many…a little minnow plucked from the shallows…’ and concludes that ‘….he’s a lesson that we can learn from…’, with an undertone of resignation.
Transferring a wider issue into an individual case ‘protest song’ to give extra impact and make an issue more relatable is a little used but very effective song writing tool – Bob Dylan has a few including ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ and ‘Hurricane’ – now ‘The Ballad of Daniel Dawson’ joins the list and reminds us that many of these societal injustices and themes just keep repeating…
From the angst of the band name to the opening tension of the lyric,‘…tell me I been walking a thin line…and I’ll be towing it as soon as you say…’, R.J. Archer & The Painful Memories are back with a blistering burst of troubled blues rock. Last heard from on their self-titled EP from 2019 (reviewed below) featuring the edgy majesty of lead track ‘It’s Snowing In Hell’, this new release is a forerunner to their delayed debut long-player ‘Hot Mess’.
A punchy, up tempo cut from this Cambridge trio, ‘Who Am I Supposed To Love Now?’ is firmly rooted in the groove of the sort of cool and credible blues-infused record that would appear regularly and successfully in the pop charts of the late 1960s and 70s. It is a summary of lovelorn discontent set to sparse instrumentation, emotionally raw vocals and featuring twisty guitar links, a roving bassline and drums always on the verge of being fully unleashed. And, of course, all in less than three minutes…
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.
After months of secrecy and anticipation, the new Public Service Broadcasting album is announced for September and the first track is now released. ‘Bright Magic’ is themed around the city of Berlin, a spiritual home of electronica and other-worldly sounds. PSB are known for incisive use of sampled spoken words and revived archive recordings but their last album ‘Every Valley’ featured more conventionally structured songs and guest vocalists too.
This new track with the instruction of ‘People, Let’s Dance’ is a multi-layered blend of synths, 80s guitar interventions, super-deep bass and the driving drums that bring these masterful compositions to life. The extra bonus this time is the glacial warmth of the vocals from lyric writer EERA, the performing name of Norwegian singer Anna Lena Bruland. Singing and speaking mostly in German her voice overlaps, backs itself and is treated, echoed and integrated like another orchestra of instruments. The video features dancers roller skating around some of the bleaker industrial landscapes around the Thames in East London, adding to the overall hypnotic effect of this excellent track and the invitation translated as ‘…come, dance and lose yourself…’
‘Hide’ is a new single from Welsh singer/songwriter Shannon Hynes, following on from the seven song ‘Country Words’ collection back in 2020.
Earlier this year she released ‘Standing Me Up’, a smooth slice of up-tempo country-pop that motored along as Shannon’s vocal interweaved with a counterpoint violin line. The catchy chorus lodged in your head and the overall effect was a positive delight, with a thoughtful undertone in the words and music.
From the pensive and sparse keyboard introduction ‘Hide’ is a gentle anthem built around a heartbeat speed and a bold vocal performance of the stately melody. The verse sections have an atmosphere of quiet melancholy which is then contrasted in the retaliation of the chorus, ‘…you want to take me down but I won’t sink down low…’. A guitar line and drums add extra instrumental weight, then backing vocals echo the lead voice until the final fading away.
These two 2021 tracks show different sides of Shannon’s performance and songwriting; both are satisfyingly full of emotion and creativity.
Like the revered Nick Drake, the musical legacy of John Martyn grows in stature, none more so than the mid-period emotional landscapes of albums ‘One World’ (1977) and the extraordinary ‘Grace And Danger’ (1980). Singer/songwriter/guitarist Katie Spencer has collaborated with two members of Martyn’s band (Alan Thomson and Spencer Cozens) for this trio of tracks.
Lead song ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ builds an atmosphere around the stately descending chord sequence using a waterfall of piano, fretless bass and the warm tones of effects-drenched guitar. Katie’s voice weaves through the ethereal delight and endlessly beguiles the listener.
‘Couldn’t Love You More’ is not just one of the best JM tracks, it is one of the best love songs ever written. The tidal flow of the original’s time signature has been adapted to a gentle waltz in this gorgeous version and Katie has captured the spirit of the lyric which I always thought concealed a yearning and loss beneath the surface sentiments.
The concluding extended jazz-ambience of ‘Small Hours’ takes time to create the mellow platform for the brief but effective vocal. Martyn never achieved the recognition he deserved before his death in 2009, but this empathetic collection helps to keep his music alive.
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….
On previous single ‘Heart Beat’, Collars created an instantly likeable track, fashioned from minimal instrumentation, a scant regard for time signature discipline and plenty of sonic surprises including an organ solo and the mellifluous vocal that playfully rolls around the melody.
Now this indiepop duo from Cambridgeshire have mixed in many extra elements at their isolated home studio in the Fens, making their sound slightly more claustrophobic with an undercurrent of nervous tension for the conversational lyric of ‘Hey Lizzie, Lay It On Me’.
Driven along by a choppy guitar with some lush synthesiser interruptions this uncluttered DIY live music experience feels like it could be in your living room with you, as of course it is in the accompanying video…
(This is a release from a forthcoming EP ‘Everything Present 1’, hopefully to be showcased at The Blue Moon in Cambridge on 31st July 2021)