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.
Cambridge rockers Bouquet Of Dead Crows are soon to release their long-awaited follow-up to debut long player ‘Into The Night’. In the meantime we have a new single, surprisingly not to be included on the new album (of course this strategy did not harm the prospects of many Beatles singles, most notably Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane missing out on Sgt Pepper….).
And hopefully this assured blast of raw power is representative of the LP…
The title stems from a misheard comment about an adverse clustering of balls on a pool table, as described in the ‘Star Wars’ style rolling prologue at the beginning of the accompanying video. Starting with a speeding up metronome, drums launch in and then guitarist Neil Bruce creates a riff density of thunderous proportions, sustained through most of the song and forming part of a spectacular instrumental middle eight with the rhythm section.
The fireworks of drumming are superb on this track and the sharp no-nonsense bass cuts through (including a short solo), highlighting the excellent production values of the band. Above it all soars Antoinette’s voice, effortlessly propelling the ‘…tick tick tock and the moment is lost…’ hookline onto a higher plane.
When I saw them recently at Cambridge’s premier noise venue The Cornerhouse, it was a definite highlight of their current live set….
As the warmth of Spring finally arrives Cambridge rockers Shyer release the ideal track for a relaxing evening of music; a punchy but laid-back three minutes which in their words is ‘..about seeing through the facade to what’s really there. Even when it’s not pretty….’. The recording is accompanied by a performance video on YouTube and some striking cover artwork! (see below).
Starting with an inviting guitar chord sequence the voice kicks in with some of the lyrical ambiguity that vocalist Amanda George is so adept at delivering, tempered by infectious ‘…uh-oh’s…’. The song reaches an irresistible chorus, where the barbs of ‘…I may be a liar, I’m inclined to forget, but tell me does this bruise your confidence…?’ float over an onslaught of perfectly tempered guitar fuzz, fighting against the dynamics of the bass and drums.
As in all the best songs the middle-eight takes the song in a different direction rhythmically and musically and on this occasion does not lead back into the chorus or any thematic resolution, instead leaving the emotional conclusion of the repeated ‘…I never asked for this…’ ominously hanging in the air.
I recently saw Shyer as first act on stage in a triple header of Cambridge favourites at popular rocking venue The Cornerhouse (with The Scissors and Bouquet Of Dead Crows) and was treated to a blistering set which showcased this fine song.
Refreshingly new and making an impact on the Cambridge scene, Carolyn’s Fingers (named after a song by the Cocteau Twins) are bringing their original music to life in live performance and now on this sparkling first single release.
‘Her Howl’ is a hypnotic, ethereal journey of the mind, painting an intense, personal picture through words and music of the nature of depression and dark thoughts. The four minutes include so many sections falling into each other; it is as if there are several songs overlapping and one of the great strengths of the piece – there is no room for complacency or background listening here. The audience is drawn in to become part of the band’s private meditation.
Sparse keyboard and subtly programmed percussive glitches weave their way between echoing electric guitar and minimalist bass foundations as the multi-voice layers finally resolve into an a cappella style chorus which disturbingly drifts away taking you with it.
Play their other intricate tracks on SoundCloud, watch their YouTube channel and better still, catch them in live action at the Portland Arms in Cambridge on 18th April…
As a prelude to his much-anticipated second long-player ‘The Last One’ Gavin Chappell-Bates releases this philosophical concoction inspired by French savant Jean-Paul Sartre and his reflections on how a person should aspire to authenticity and make free choices. Despite JP’s intellect I’m sure that while smoking his pipe in the salons of Paris that even he could not have predicted this satisfying combination of challenging lyric and punchy indie-rock.
Although Gavin could probably multi-track and loop the other instruments himself he has chosen to feature two of Cambridge’s top performers and session players, Neil Bruce of Bouquet Of Dead Crows on guitar and Fred’s House drummer Paul Richards (who has just launched a new drumming film project, see link below). The spiky words and edgy music encourage the listener to reflect on the profound issues carefully, or just dance along anyway.
The accompanying video consists of graphic interpretations of the lyric, no personal appearance this time, before bombarding us with the big question: ‘…bad faith, good faith, decide, this is your life…’. Deep stuff indeed, but ridiculously catchy too.
With this song and the previous single Gavin is enigmatically trailing the forthcoming album, hopefully due early 2018?