Last week about 130 artists sent in a track to our Inbox and our moderation team listened to every one of them. We then collectively whittled them down to a shortlist of 25 for our Listening Post which went live over the weekend. Many thanks to everyone who gave their time and expertise to listen to those 25 tunes and tell us their five favourites. These Fresh Faves are your 11 most popular choices, and the honour of reviewing them this week falls to me. For your listening convenience you can hear all these tracks together in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
ANDREW MONTGOMERY – After The Storm
The fact that Andrew Montgomery enjoyed chart success in the late 90s as frontman with Suede labelmates Geneva is perhaps the least interesting thing about this record. The fact that Saul Galpern at Nude records spotted his innate musical gifts all those years ago is neither here nor there. The one fact that matters is that here today, in July 2014, the work of a gifted and original songwriter has elbowed its way to the front of our listening queue on sheer musical merit. The opening footsteps in Sean McGhee’s measured, atmospheric production draw us in before he springs the trap by unleashing Montgomery’s astonishing voice. It’s an A&R truism that a great vocal performance can sell even the cheesiest demo in the world – let alone a recording as fresh and thoughtful as After The Storm. It bodes well for Andrew’s forthcoming debut solo album, due in October.
HEAVY PETTING ZOO – Crash
As a firm believer myself in the old rock’n’roll adage “three chords good, two chords better”, Crash is my kind of record. It’s far, far harder to write with this kind of harmonic simplicity than to spray clever-clever chord changes around the place every other bar. This single assembles tried and trusted components first built by vintage CBGB bands into a new and refreshing combination that’s guaranteed to gratify the ears of even a grizzled veteran like myself. Imagine the reverb-dranched guitar-twangling and arch boy-girl vocals of a lost Cramps or B52s classic that’s been zapped by some kind of 21st century bizzaro ray. Each is component comfortably familiar – and yet yet disconcertingly different enough to surprise and delight all these decades later. My last encounter with Swansea’s Heavy Petting Zoo occurred last December when their song Broken Bone featured on my BBC Introducing Mixtape together with a live photo of the band – dominated by their famously ‘bewildering and outlandish’ dancer known only as Jon. See bottom of page for more weird scenes inside the goldmine…
HEIDRIK – Marias Donkey
Quality: you can’t fake it, can’t mistake it, and Maria’s Donkey – due out a week today – has it aplenty: sheer certifiable 24 carat quality songwriting, singing, playing and production. The amount of of time, care and talent lavished on this single by Faroese artist / producer Heiðrik and his orchestrator Rosabella Gregory is obvious to the most casual listener. Immersed as we are in the weekly deluge of new music vying for attention here at Fresh On The Net, I frequently find my attention span straying anytime a song wanders past the three and a half minute mark. Does that guitar solo really add anything to our listening enjoyment? Do we really need to hear that chorus repeated for a fourth and fifth time? (This is all written as a repented sinner, I hasten to add. Not much of my own back catalogue would stand up to this test…) This intelligent string-driven epic – with its twists and sonic surprises – sustains our interest and justifies every one of its 220 seconds’ length .
JACOB WILLIAM – Caught Red Handed
Jacob William is a fine artist. Hopefully he’ll forgive me for admitting that when Caught Red Handed first came on the speakers I mistook him for what those of us in the trade call ‘a piano-botherer’. Every DJ, blogger, manager, publisher – in fact anyone who’s ever had to wade through several hundred demos in a morning – will know the sinking feeling when the first piano triads proclaim yet another singer-songwriter about to punish the ivories of some luckless Steinway with their latest noodling magnum opus.
But JW diverges from this well-beaten path very quickly indeed. Within four seconds he’s disrupted that first noodle with a surprise major 7th. Within six, his spinetingling voice has kicked in, and by ten seconds we know we’re in the presence of greatness. As with Andrew Montgomery, it’s the vocal that seals the deal – while the grand piano accompaniment vanishes into the background almost as an irrelevance. And beyond the smallest doubt, this is a song born of real-life experience. If Art can be defined as ‘the process by which we encode experience in order to share it with others’ then Jacob William is a very fine artist indeed.
LITTLE INDIA – Oola
Many thanks to Listening Post regular Oldie Rob for sending Vancouver’s Little India our way this week. This north-western band was founded in 2012 by Durban-born frontman Conan Karpinski who spent his final years of high school in Canada where he befriended future musical partners bassist Andrew Dixon and drummer Dallyn Hunt. Their debut EP Up All Night came out last November and it was followed by this latest single Oola – a slice of upbeat summery sunshine pop that proved highly popular with our readers this weekend and was released in May 2014 via iTunes.
MAT MOTTE – Summer Song
Cheerful, optimistic songs about the summer seem to be highly topical right now – why FOTN’s very own Johnno Snippet has just teamed up with the splendid Bill Greenhead from StiKtoonz to create an animated video for his own latest earworm We Luv The Sunshine. The whole proposition is turned anarchically on its head here by Matt Mott, sometime mainman with the much-admired Mower (whose debut album was produced by Stephen Street and released by Graham Coxon’s Transcopic Records). The splashy loose-limbed opening groove of Summer Song proclaims an assured hand at the reins – confirmed again by a strong forthright vocal and sardonic pop lyrics so finely burnished there isn’t a word out of place or a surplus syllable to heard. It’s a first foretaste from Matt’s forthcoming solo album and due to be released via Plethora Records on July 21st.
MIKE DIGNAM – Hurt
Mike Dignam is a well-connected artist who seems well on his way to major success. Blessed not only with a distinctive voice and the ability to put a decent song together – but also hench good looks, 74,000 friends on Facebook and a dedicated management team – Mike looks set to make a mainstream breakthrough within the next year or two. None of this has come overnight; his official biography tells us his career began with selfrecording and selfreleasing a debut EP back in 2008 from his home in Preston – since when he seems to have worked pretty much nonstop: constantly co-writing, collaborating, performing and touring. Talent and good fortune aside, there’s no substitute for motivation, focus and hard work, and it’s no surprise that Mike is now reaping the benefits of six years’ solid slog.
Hurt is the lead track on Mike’s forthcoming EP It Was Written, due out on August 10th. Given the size and reach of his fanbase it was perhaps no surprise that as many as five first-time visitors to Fresh On The Net should have broken our rules by showing up to vote for it on our Listening Post this weekend. Enough of our regulars liked the song however for it to comfortably secure a place in our latest Fresh Faves jsut the same. To these ears it’s professionally written and sung, but perhaps a little too calculated, a little too anodyne and a little too long: outstaying its welcome by a minute or so. But since 95% of the Top 40 these days leaves me baffled and unmoved, I’m no judge of what will and won’t sell by the bucketload. We wish him every success.
MORO+THE SILENT REVOLUTION – Blamelessness
Moro & the Silent Revolution have made three appearances on our Listening Post in recent weeks – and this time around their beautifully crafted alt-pop gem Blamelessness scored a bullseye with our readers. And no wonder: it takes enormous skill and careful attention to detail to write songs that sound as effortless as this. With this lightness of touch the band easily achieve their stated goal of creating “Anglo-American folk-pop with catchy refrains and unsettling lyrics.” It’s all the more remarkable when you consider that it’s being produced not in Shoreditch, Brooklyn or some Southern Californian hipster locale but in the commune and city of Forlì – close to the Adriatic coast of Italy. While clearly an anglophile of the first water, frontman Massimiliano Morini is – astonishingly – not a native English speaker. Most of us would seriously struggle to write songs as good as this in our own language, let alone in a foreign tongue. Blamelessness is track three on the band’s aptly-titled third album Home Pastorals – available on Gamma Pop via iTunes. And if we could presume to offer Moro and the gang just one small suggestion, it would be to link from your Soundcloud & Facebook to to your Twitter account to make it easier for fans like us to find :-)
ROBJN – Epitaph
Many members of our moderation team here at Fresh On The Net are also songwriters in our own right – including Johnno, Debs, Steff, both the Sams and indeed myself. A welcome recent addition to our ranks has been the Cambridge-based artist and musician Robjn – whose work I already admired – and who last week submitted the haunting title track of his new album Epitaph to our inbox. Four separate moderators picked it for the Listening Post this week and, if anyone imagines this was mere cronyism, simply click “play” to hear why we and our readers liked it so much. Robjn’s yearning electro-tinged vocals slam in from the get-go, and then after 66 seconds – just when you think you have the measure of the song – in come the sudden driving percussion loops, lifting the energy to a whole new level. Clear, sparse and very much of the moment, Epitaph embodies a musical sound and approach you simply wouldn’t have heard ten or even five years ago. It’s made with little more than love, a laptop and a keep pair of ears – and easily one of the most engaging records I’ve heard this year.
SHE KEEPS BEES – Is What It Is
It’s five years since we played Release from the debut EP Revival by She Keeps Bees – aka the Brooklyn partnership of frontwoman Jessica Larrabee and drummer/producer Andy LaPlant. The duo have been releasing music made at home since 2006 – ploughing their own resolutely leftfield musical furrow and occasionally playing the festival circuit here in the UK. Is What It Is features a guest appearance by Sharon Van Etten and comes from their new album Eight Houses. The LP also marks the first time they’ve worked with an outside producer – Nicolas Vernhes (of Wye Oak, Deerhunter, War On Drugs and Dirty Projectors fame) – and to be honest I’m not sure it’s a move in the right direction. There’s no trace of Jessica’s kick-ass guitar playing – or indeed Andy’s drumming – in this inspipid dirge with its feeble drum machine and nondescript keyboard wash. The wretched output of most so-called Supergroups over the past fifty years has long proved that the biggest names don’t neccessarily produce the greatest music. On the other hand our readers clearly adored this record. So do enough people on both sides of the Atlantic for She Keeps Bees to be setting up European tour dates as far ahead as November – so what do I know? Time will tell and we shall see.
THE VENUS LYX – Bad Water In The Hollow
The Venus Lyx consist of the brothers Traylen – namely Daniel, George, James – in Farnham. “Not content within the confines of provincial life” they are, we’re told “spilling blood out in the weather”. And that’s all we’re told. We featured their song Saint Mary Walking Home on my BBC Introducing Mixtape back in April because its sense of dangerous abandon – and the slow buildup of anarchic energy towards the end – appealed to me a great deal. Alas it’s a bit of a struggle to detect much of these qualities in Bad Water In The Hollow. And here’s a thing. When Lou Reed twanged out clunky off-key one-string solos with the Velvet Underground in late sixties Manhattan, it was proclaimed as an artistic rejection of the mainstream rock guitar heroics that were dominant at the time. But to those of use who’ve heard that same old VU schtick being done to death over the last 47 years it doesn’t sound big, and it doesn’t sound clever. In 2014 it just sounds clunky and off-key. Still, I could be wrong and frequently am. It’s perfectly possible I’m just a jaded old tw*t and Bad Water In The Hollow is in fact a bold, innovative pointer to the future. It certainly tickled the fancies of moderators and readers alike this week, and it may well tickle yours. Why not click the play button and find out for yourself :-)
PS from TR: If you’ve submitted a track that hasn’t made the Listening Post you’re welcome to re-submit it another week. If your music has appeared on the Listening Post but not in our Fresh Faves, feel free to send us an even stronger track another week.
But if we’ve recently featured you in our Fresh Faves – or on my BBC Introducing Mixtape – please wait three months before sending us another track, so we have space to help other deserving artists… For more info see Robinson Has A Good Old Moan.