Fresh Faves: Batch 71

Carly Humphries from Battle Lines

BATTLE LINES – The Walls
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It starts like classic dark slowburning triphop, with a low almost digeridoo drone and crisp grooving drums. Then Carly Humphries’ arresting vocal enters and all bets are off, with rhyming couplets more reminiscent of a hoedown or sea shanty than Shara Nelson or Beth Gibbons. This music is not “quite good, for an emerging act” but a single of 24 carat quality – immaculately recorded and mixed by James Kenosha, no less. Based in Leeds, Battle Lines have serious management and a promotion team who will hopefully get their music to a wider audience sooner rather than later.

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CLEAR – Sunlight

In the comments for last week’s Mixtape Chris Damms posted “Hi Tom have listen to Sunlight by Clear from Sheffield”. Luckily he then spotted our inbox and sent us this beautifully recorded track so that we – and in due course our readers – could do exactly that.  This is classic pop songwriting – in that it could have appealed to audiences anytime in the last 40 years – yet there’s enough 21st Century sensibility in the writing, recording and performance for Sunlight to sound fresh-wrought rather than some kind of retread. For my own tastes it could be quite a lot shorter without losing any of the song’s essence or appeal, but the piano’s rhythmic subtely and unexpected middle eight were a real treat. Chris’s songwriting partner in Clear is Lloyd Gregory, but they don’t as yet have much of a collective online presence.

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FIM – Fast Cars

I’d like to think we could have guessed that FIM were a band from LA just from the way they sound, sing and construct their songs. The sharpest music is always to be found on the edge, yet – whether your measure is of rage, outrage or just downright oddness – down the years, compared to UK bands,  it’s often the Americans who have had, erm, the edge. British cities from Oxford to Cardiff, Sunderland to Glasgow all have their own thriving soundscapes – yet the cheap beatbox, slack megaphone vocals and choppy rhythm guitar of Fast Cars is not the kind of noise you’d expect to emerge from any of them. It’s the opening tune on FIM‘s 7-track EP Alien Beach Party available on limited 12″ vinyl via their Bandcamp.

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NEW KILLER SHOES – Love Rocket

Scifi bleeps, tortured electric guitar moans, and a needy croaky vocal dripping with pent-up desire. An irresistible rolling, midetmpo groove propelled by spangly acoustic guitar lines and a motoring bass. Oh and an arrangement that grows, swerves, develops and keeps the sonic surprises coming – while conforming to the old punk rock adage: three chords good, two chords better, one chord best of all. This is a swaggering beast of a track that worms its way between your ears and refuses to come back out again. I just played it three times on the trot then went looking for it on YouTube – and what a shock: the original version is a COMPLETELY different song in every imaginable way . I has to doublecheck to even make sure it was the same band. If this new acoustic version of Love Rocket is a taste of the direction New Killer Shoes are headed on their forthcoming album I Ain’t Even Plugged In, then bring it on.

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OLYMPIAN – Back To The Great Lakes

This track was hugely, overwhelmingly popular with readers on the Listening Post this weekend. Not only Team Freshnet’s Jason Davis and Chris Bye, but trusted regulars such as Reckless Princess, Softwhere, Posh Ape, The Gravity Drive, Drunk Mule, Glenn Maltman and Oldie Rob all rated it among their top five tracks. Jillian Macdonald even singled out its “nice tones” and compared it to British Sea Power – which is no bad thing in my book. It’s the title track of an EP released digitally on iTunes and Amazon in April by the shadowy Mancunian entity known as Olympian. Shadowy? Bethan Elfyn would love this one:

Olympian Facebook Page

Is it a band, is it a man, is it side project, is it a production team? Who’s in it, how long have they been going, what else have they released? Readers, having wasted 20 minutes chasing it/them/him through their Soundcloud, Twitter and Facebook accounts I still have no f*cking idea and there are another five reviews waiting to be written. Life’s too short.

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PASSPORT TO STOCKHOLM – Carousel

A likeable acoustic stomp that sells itself from bar one with a lovely heartfelt and unaffected vocal. While I personally prefer a great deal more grit in my oyster (and worry that these kinds of halftime mid-tempo jugband rhythms become tedious and leaden in the wrong hands) given the number of people who rated it in their top five this weekend, I’m clearly in a minority of one. There’s enough canny arrangement and subtle production detail in any case (especially from the cello) to keep the interests level high. Credit for this may be due not only to Passport To Stockholm themselves themselves but also to the impressive list of colloborators namechecked on their biog – Gordon Mills Jr, Amy Wadge and Athlete’s Carey Willets – with whom the band are currently working towards a debut EP called Behind The Lights.

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SEATTLE YACHT CLUB – Feeling The Sunshine

Ah well, it was one of those moments of pure synchronicity when this popped up in our inbox last week on the hottest day of the year so far. Tight, smooth harmonies, poppy scat vocal hooks, glistening electric piano chords, muted guitar picking reminiscent of steel pans – a light uptempo groove and Seattle Yacht Club‘s signature slick production values. Oh and a memorable chorus. Tom Dale and Denis Brice seem to be just going from strength to strength. I approved this track for the Listening Post less than 30 seconds into the song, and our readers voted it into the Fresh Faves here with the same alacrity. SYC are now under the care, quite literally of Formidable Management and if the Men In Suits can help this duo achieve even half the recognition they deserve over the coming months, I predict we’ll see them on the Radio 1 playlist and playing major festival slots within a year.

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SIÔN RUSSELL JONES – Sleeping Giant

A single hanging opening chord, and within five seconds its clear that here is an acoustic guitarist of unfakeable power and authority. So far, so traditional, but forty three seconds in, the chord sequence suddenly leaps the points and we’re headed off down a whole fresh line of musical enquiry. Acoustic guitars being relativey cheap and easy to play (and messrs Mumford, Blunt and Howard having achieved such spectacular commercial success) it’s no wonder BBC Introducing is inundated with singer-songwriters from every corner of the country. Master craftsmen with the light effortless touch of Siôn Russell Jones on the other hand are few and far between. His engaging vocal leads us through expertly constructed verses, then upwards through the chorus to deliver its his hookline smack on the dot of 90 seconds into the song: “I will wake the sleeping giant.” Quality.

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TALK IN COLOUR – Rolling

Ah – and on the subject of experts with a deft touch who know what they’re doing, get a load of London’s Talk In Colour. The sum total of my expertise in the fields of electronica and dance music could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but I know what I like. This doesn’t sound to me like the product of jams on stage or in the rehearsal room, but of  many hours and days of careful arrangement in a studio – the sonic equivalent of creating an oil painting – layering colours on every inch of the canvas in painstaking detail. I love the groove of Rolling – and the way the sounds grow, shift and develop through the course of the song. I also relish the feeling – as with Siôn’s track – that we can relax and allow ourselves to be taken on a journey because we’re in the hands of experts who know exactly what they’re doing. But as always, the clincher is the vocal performance. Mary Erksine who could sing words from a phone directory over the cheesiest Casiotone backing in the world and still win me over in a heartbeat.

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THE GANG – Every Only Way

I’ve been following the progress of Canterbury trio The Gang ever since we played their early classic All Spoon, No Fork back in December 2011. This March we featured Mania – the opening track from their EP Blvdevard – on my BBC Introducing Mixtape. So far, so promisingly rocktastic. But this new track has dropped out of a clear blue sky and at a stroke put The Gang into an entirely different league. The writing, harmonic content, playing, pacing, vocals, lyrics, delivery, production – the vast open spaces in the arrangement – everything is suddenly IMMENSE. Joe Hunt’s mile-wide bassline, Jimi Tormey’s demolition derby drums, and brother Eric Tormey’s wall-of-sound guitar – with a vocal howl that sounds like it was dragged up from the bottom of his soul.

But how has this enclave of talent appeared as if from nowhere in the wilds of Kent over the past couple of years? A little digging provides the answer: Every Only Way was produced at Barnroom Studios by none other than rock legend Bernie Tormé – who fronted his own punk-era band and served as lead guitarist for both Ozzy Osbourne and Ian Gillan over the years. And – if Bernie not only passed on his musical DNA to his sons but named them after Messrs Clapton and Hendrix – what chance did Eric and Jimi have of growing up to be talentless bozos ? None whatsoever. And in case you’re thinking “ha – it’s all down to Dad pulling the strings in the studio” think again. Click here for lo-fi cameraphone footage of The Gang performing this song live at The Monarch in London only last week. Even recorded on a tinny little microphone beside the stage it still sounds IMMENSE. No contest: Band Of The Week. Record Of The Week.

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The Gang

ARTISTS:  if you’ve submitted a track that hasn’t made the Fresh Faves you’re welcome to re-submit it again. But if you have been a Fresh Fave in recent weeks please hold back for 6-8 weeks before sending us another one. After all if you keep sending us great tracks every week it leaves less room for new names who haven’t had a chance yet…

Tom Robinson

London-based broadcaster & songwriter, born 1950. His best known songs are 2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay and War Baby; he has also co-written songs with Peter Gabriel, Elton John, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. Read More…

7 Comments

  1. Elia

    Woah! Really strong week The Gang’s track is special special!

  2. Great music by all,great reviews Tom & pleased to see a number of my own personal faves too.
    Well done lovely people

  3. Thanks for the kind words Tom. I’ve uploaded the “Radio Edit” for you. We did sweat on which one to send you. Radio edit below
    http://www.soundcloud.com/clearmusic/sunlight-radio-edit

  4. Marcus Davies

    Tom, I checked out the Clear track on Soundcloud and I think that your review is just about bang on. West Coast America circa 1960’s meets Sheffield circa 2013.

    Cheers

    Marcus

  5. sorayah patel

    I agrree with you Marcus…..great mix of Tradition and new feel…..is this band touring at all…?

  6. BATTLE LINES are absolute CLASS! One of the most exciting sounds to come out of Leeds in Years!

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