These were our readers’ favourite tracks over the weekend – and today the honour of reviewing them falls to me. Having spent years spouting advice to younger songwriters, I recently attempted to follow some of it myself and pen a few new tunes of my own. Let’s draw a veil over those attempts and say only that glib advice like “all you have to be is good” is a lot easier to give than to follow. And meanwhile salute every songwriter who’s ever been brave enough to write and record new music, upload it to Soundcloud and send it here for us to listen to.
Take it from me: what the eleven artists on this page have achieved musically, sonically, lyrically and creatively is unbelievably sodding hard to do. They’ve created music from out of nowhere that’s pleased and delighted the hearts of our moderators and readers alike. They’ve reminded every one of us why we do what we do – and who we do it for. You can hear all their tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here and it’s a great listen.
AARON DOUGLAS – Repeat
This track Repeat is a fine taster from Aaron’s Battles EP which was released today (Mon 6 Oct 2014) via iTunes and Bandcamp. Aaron Douglas has clearly acquired some serious songwriting chops by watching and learning during his stint as bass player with Cosmo Jarvis. His velvet vocals pile straight in from the top over a distinctly nonstandard acoustic guitar groove, while the lyrics are cliché-free and freshminted as if they sprang fully formed straight from the Douglas heart. The whole thing sounds effortless – precisely because so much effort has gone into honing and polishing every note of this recording.
Although my personal tastes generally run to tunes a tad shorter – and quite a lot grittier – than this, you can’t fault the passion and sheer craftsmanship of this record. Props to Harry Harding for the micron-precision drums and bassplaying on this track – also to Jack Stuart & Sam at Wilder Studios in Bristol for their elegant and beautifully executed production.
CARL YEUNG – Metropical
I defy you to listen to the intro of Carl Yeung‘s Metropical without a big silly grin spreading across your face as his liquid Strat lines and crazed D&B beats blast out across the atmospheric party chatter. A wonderful uplifting record that proved wildly popular with our readers this weekend; it’s enough to put a spring in your step and a warming jump in the heart as the father of analytical psychology sets out his feelgood manifesto for the winter months ahead.
No, don’t be silly – of course this Carl Yeung isn’t the grizzled Swiss mystic who pioneered the concept of archetypes and the collective unconscious in the early 20th Century. But he might as well be, for all the information this Tyneside-based guitarist – formerly of The Costellos – gives away about himself and his work. No doubt, like the other hundred-odd musicians who sent us music last month with no discernable backstory, he wants to preserve a Sense Of Mystery. Good luck with that.
FEMMEPOP – Yellow Lines
All today’s Fresh Faves came to us last week via our very own Soundcloud Dropbox. It’s open from Monday to Thursday afternoon and it’s our proud boast that any artist, anywhere can send us one tune and every member of our moderation team that week will listen to it, including me. (Sometime people ignore these guidelines and send more than one track a week, or upload while we’re closed – in which case we ignore their music). But that aside, we really do listen to every single song.
One of the perks of this work is that behind-the-scenes we can track the progress of bands and songwriters as they try stuff out, get fresh ideas, try other stuff out – and slowly focus in on their musical goals. With 200 tunes arriving a week, we can’t possibly offer individual feedback – though some moderators do leave occasional Soundcloud comments when they hear promising work. All of which is a longwinded way of saying we’ve been following the progress of Cork songwriter Margaret O’ Sullivan aka Femmepop (not to be confused with Laura Bettinson’s Femme) since early last year.
We’ve been impressed with the careful build-up of Femmepop’s career strategy, gradually amassing the body of songs that culminated last month in the release of her debut album From A Girl Who Never Sleeps – produced by Margaret herself and mixed by Gavin Monaghan, no less. Every ambitious artist whose aim is to make a living from music has to tread a fine line between pop accessibility and artistic credibility. Our readers – who decidedly prefer the latter – have given this track a resounding thumbs-up, which suggests that with Yellow Lines Margaret has achieved that ideal balance. We wish her well.
GLASS ANKLE – Unlike You
I’ve been a fan of Greg Jackson’s Manchester-based Glass Ankle project ever since his bizarre Japanese-flavoured debut single Kyo Wa ii Hi (Today is a Good Day) caught my attention four years ago. Their music has avoided beaten paths and predictable tramlines – since day one. The band’s current offering – the misleadingly titled Fragments EP – is anything but. Once again we see a songwriter slowly focussing in on a particular artistic vision, growing in confidence and distilling his work so that it sounds ever more like itself.
Fragments spans six tracks of varying length and ranging from longstanding favourite Poor Boy (featured on my Introducing Mixtape last August) through to this latest offering, Unlike You. Lush, richly detailed and lyrically dark in tone it also pulls off this difficult task of making a funereal tempo – that could easily end up as a leaden dirge – groove like a bastard. The live lineup consists of Greg plus Samir Graba, Chika Woodward and Danny Shaw on drums and their next two hometown shows are at A Carefully Planned Festival (playing Soup Kitchen) a week on Saturday (Oct 18) and Acoustic Bhuna at Band On The Wall on Sunday Nov 11.
HUMAN PYRAMIDS – Relapse
[AK/DK’s Building Blocks Remix]
If this artist name and track title sound familiar, that’s because Team Freshnet’s Jim Craigen already reviewed a single called Relapse by Human Pyramids in Fresh Faves 76 last September. It’s a music project from multi-instrumentalist Paul Russell, originally from an old mining village in the central belt of Scotland but now based in London and Jim described the original version as “a sublime mix of choir-led vocals with a range of instrumentation… a wonderfully refreshing tune.”
It was taken from Paul’s album Planet Shhh! which was subsequently released in April this year on (his own?) Three Mile Town Records label. But even if you remembered the track name from last September, you’d be hard pressed to recognise the tune from this vigorous and inventive new remix by our friends AK/DK – which has pretty much turned it into an entirely new piece of music – and is available for the price of your choosing at the Human Pyramids Bandcamp page.
STEFF LANE – For Today
Just like myself, around half of our team of moderators at Fresh On The Net are also musicians, songwriters and producers of one kind or another – and I first encountered many of them as a result of liking their music. The roll call currently includes Johnno Snippet, Debs McCoy, Louis Barabbas, Biff Roxby, Robjn, Sam Bonham, Thin White Dude Jason Davis – and our resident Snowdonian stalwart Steff Lane also known as Jupiter Falls. All of them give up considerable time each week to helping fellow artists get heard here at FOTN, so it’s only right they too should submit occasional tunes of their own to our dropbox and take their chances with everybody else.
Rest assured that when we’re wading through that mountain of music trying to whittle a couple of hundred tunes down to just 25, nobody gets preferential treatment. We all make our choices based entirely on what comes out of the speakers, and have a large team to ensure a wide spread of tastes. To prove there was no favouritism Johnno has actually used various outlandish pseudonyms when uploading tunes in the past that nonetheless ended up on The Listening Post (see 3 Potato 4) on sheer merit.
And sheer merit is what brings us this latest offering from Steff. The last time he made our listeners’ Fresh Faves was November 2103 with Blind Side Of Love. This latest track – For Today – is the result of a collaboration with Steve Low from Weaving Spiders in Bangor. Steve recorded all the guitar parts in his home studio, leaving Steff free to concentrate on singing. The result is a step change upwards and the strongest work Mr Lane’s produced to date – all the more impressive when you consider English is Steff’s second language. Surely a Welsh-only release can’t be far behind?
THE LAST PORT – Skies
The Last Port is, as far as we know, a music producer based in Paris. His or her track Skies – with its loping semi-dubstep groove, ambient atmospherics and ethereal female vocals – proved a big hit with our readers pretty much from the moment it hit our Listening Post last Friday. The Last Port has been extremely thorough about creating accounts on all the key social media sites to promote the flow of music and information. The music is pretty good and available at the price of your choosing. The information is conspicuously absent – to a degree that makes Carl Yeung seem positively garrulous. Once again, we have an artist keen to preserve a Sense Of Mystery and, gentle reader, you can trust me on this. There really is such a thing as Too Much F***ing Mystery.
THE RAGAMUFFINS – Taped off the Radio
Well at least there’s no shortage of information about The Ragamuffins whose biog tells us they’re “an indie pop group based in the North West” and showers us with adjectives such as frenetic, soaring, infectious, chiming, lush, catchy, renowned, towering… oh you get the idea. (See How To Speak Press Release). To be honest my first impression of this track was that the Average White funk groove and average white vocal melody were redeemed only by the decidedly above-average Norman-Watt-Roy-Rhythm-Stick-bassline from band member Alex Pearson.
But then quite suddenly, at fifty seconds in, Taped Off The Radio springs to life – with meaningful lyrics, a proper chorus, memorable melody and everything. No wonder it ended up on the Listening Post as one of our moderators’ top picks – and indeed here in our readers’ Fresh Faves. The Ragamuffins are clearly a storming live band. Playing and singing as tight and sharp as this comes only from plentiful rehearsal and long months of gigging. This song sounds as though it might have begun life as a standard rehearsal room jam. Yet someone in the project clearly has the serious writing chops needed to fashion that raw material into a Proper Catchy Earworm of a song. A suitable tune for closing live sets with audience members hanging from the rafters and singing along with every word.
THE UNFORTUNATES – Raymond’s Perfect World
Hand on heart, for all kind of reasons I found this both daft and irresistible right from the opening bar. Raymond’s Perfect World sounds completely spontaneous: it teeters on the brink of facetiousness and yet never falls in. The writing, playing, performance and recording demonstrate the lightness of touch and complete assurance found among all genuine Great British Eccentrics. And to be one of those you need more than Steampunk clothing and a few wacky songs. Earlier this year The Unfortunates took over Stoke Newington’s 16th Century parish church to host UnLondon: “a free one day festival of literature, music and visual art inspired by the unloved, lost and imaginary sides of the capital city.”
“Unappreciated and unknown to many,” their manifesto proclaimed “this is a London of libraries and launderettes, of back streets and betting shops… Away from the venerable Wren churches and arrogant glass skyscrapershere is the city at a domestic scale, ordinary individual lives lived in London’s interleaving neighbourhoods.” Speakers included poet Bernard Kops, the inspiration for Mannie Katz in Absolute Beginners; Travis Elborough, author of The Bus We Loved; Ken Worpole, whose study of working class writing (Dockers and Detectives) reintroduced Alexander Baron’s London classic The Lowlife to a new generation; and chansonnier Des De Moor – author of the CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer.
My point is this: The Unfortunates don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. Being in a band is almost the least of their concerns. They’re already planning another UnLondon festival for November – this time on the theme of Imaginary London – and are actively soliciting contributions. Why am I not surprised to learn that their new EP For Boys With One Track Minds has just been released in the form of a limited edition cassette and badge – or that only 8 copies are left…
TWEED & HYENAS – Norðasta Horn
It’s curious how very distinct music scenes often emerge within quite a short geographical distance of one another. Glasgow vs Fyfe, Tyneside vs Wearside, Merseyside vs Manchester… not to mention the multiple music scenes of London – Camden vs Shoreditch vs Bethnal Green and so forth. The one corner of the capital that’s grabbed my music attention more often than any other over the years is the South Eastern one. New Cross in general, and Goldsmiths University in particular have produced a wild variety of adventurous artists such as Portico Quartet, James Blake, La Shark, Lisbee Stainton, Katy B, Buffalo Ink, Ifan Dafydd, Crewdson, Aztec Cormorant, Tom Morley, Fabiana Palladino, Beaty Heart and (Laura Bettinson’s) Femme… the list goes on.
When Goldsmiths tutor Simon Deacon joined me on 6 Music to curate an After Hour back in April, one of the tracks he brought along was Norðasta Horn – which blew me away. Simon explained that Tweed & Hyenas had started out as the solo project of overseas student Jón Klæmint Hofgaard. As is the way of these things he soon fell in with the kindred souls of drummer Ed Burton and guitarist Benjamin Madeley and the project evolved into a permanent trio. Their stated joint goal is to ‘explore instruments at their barest, and willfully poke and break’ their music in live performance. So far, so pretentious – yet you only have to click ‘play’ and every word is both forgiven and justified.
Norðasta Horn garnered more votes than any other tune on this weekend’s Listening Post by a comfortable margin, and no wonder. It’s sublime music from a songwriter of rare talent. It’s included on the 90 minute 2014 Mixtape from the Goldsmiths label NX Records and can be downloaded for free here.
WHICHA MIRRORS – Lightyears
Whicha Mirrors is a collaboration between childhood friends Joshua James Field and Michael Kilbey – which goes some way to explaining the extraordinary way their voices and guitars blend on Lightyears. It’s an almost telephatic meshing of sound and melody found only among family members or individuals who’ve sung together most of their lives. 6 Music listeners with long memories may remember Michael Kilbey as sometime frontman with the band Harrison Hope, featured a couple of times on my BBC Introducing radio shows. Joshua James Field has his own stellar CV as a concert pianist, Hollywood film composer, peace campaigner and supporter of human rights. Whicha Mirrors are clearly a band that will repay close attention in the coming months as they prepare to release their debut EP – from which Lightyears is the title track – and tour the country at large during 2015. Meanwhile Londoners can catch them at The Workshop on Old Street tonight (Tue Oct 7); Surya in Pentonville Road (Oct 28); and Smiths in Spitalfields (Nov 14). Finally, Lightyears is currently a free download on their Bandcamp page.
PS: 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.