This week we received another stunning batch of tracks in our inbox, from which our moderators had the difficult job of picking just 25 tracks for our Listening Post this weekend. Our readers had the even harder job of picking just five each from that excellent shortlist.
Below are your 10 overall favourites – reviewed in alphabetical order by Fresh On The Net moderator Biff Roxby – musician, producer and cofounder of Manchester’s Debt Records. You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
ALFRESCO LOVE SOUNDS – Spare Time
On one of the coldest mornings of the year, this is a welcome warm beginning to the week’s Fresh Faves. On further investigation it becomes apparent that Tom Ward, the brain behind Alfresco Love Sounds, had the summer very much in mind while writing and recording the album that Spare Time is plucked from. It’s a crafty song. I admit I thought I had the measure of it quickly, but a subtly angular chord sequence and an out-of-the-blue semitone shift soon put me in my place. Not to mention the dolphinlike chorus of Ward’s friends “..mashing about in my room shouting with the tambourine and just going crazy for a bit”. The carefree feeling of the song, a pleasing attention to detail in the timbre of the piece and an assured ear for production make this a strong opener for Fresh Faves 136.
CaStLeS – Nightingale
In their song Nightingale, Welsh three piece CaStLeS have a wonderfully wonky take on a folky/bluesy mover. Brothers Cynyr and Dion Hamer, and their cohort Calvin Thomas are “Inspired by the surrounding wilderness..” which comes across in Nightingale. I can just imagine this as the soundtrack to a muddy, satisfying trudge through the woods. Lovely use of synth sounds, particularly the Minimoog that provides the fanfare after the guitar intro. I’m a sucker for this particular Moog sound, ever since i first heard Fred Wesley and the JB’s Blow Your Head, featuring James Brown on synth duties. It’s a versatile sound which is used to great effect here. There is a bleak atmosphere to the main body of the song, but also one of adventure as the intensity setting is increased for a mini psych-folk freak-out at the end. You are left only with the squelchy sound of what (I like to think) must be tuned lengths of plastic drainpipe fading into the distance.
DOMINIC HALPIN – Senor Blue
As I’m writing I’m staring at the record sleeve for Big Western Movie Themes. The twangy, tremolo tinged guitars, the hollow-body bass tone and the ‘lonely cowboy’ whistle would all be right at home on that record. And don’t forget the Mariachi trumpet section! Dominic Halpin’s Señor Blue is a solid, accomplished performance all round but I can’t help but think there’s a tongue-in-cheek element to it all. Maybe that’s just what I want to believe as the song fades; a hope that the fade-out ending (in my opinion an overused production shortcut) is in some way ironic. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Dominic Halpin was fresh out of a Las Vegas Casino residency, what with his rock & roll/crooner approach and his Brylcreemed barnet. But no, he and his band The Honey B’s are Mancunian, and very good at what they do.
GILBERT LINLEY – Animal, Vegetable, Mineral
At the beginning of Animal, Vegetable, Mineral Gilbert Linley proclaims “Aha, I have it!” and whatever “it” is, I want some. This track is amazing. It moves from resplendent orchestral fanfare straight into an Amstrad CPC game soundtrack, and back again…. and back again. Then it drops into a frantic arpeggiated dream sequence and emerges into one of the best build-ups I’ve heard for ages before climaxing in a maelstrom of filter sweeps and brain-frying explorations of the frequency spectrum. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral skates the knife edge between meaning and nonsense. But what glorious nonsense.
JAMES BARTHOLOMEW – Far Away
This is a beautiful performance, and accomplished. It is a real skill to harness the warmth and subtlety of a steel strung acoustic as James Bartholomew does in Far Away, especially given the intricacy of the piece. To a shovel-handed clot like me, fingerstyle guitar is always impressive but this is more than that. The steady, smooth confidence of the delivery and the carefully considered structure make for a absorbing experience. I had no idea how much time had passed when the last notes rang out. There are plenty of acoustic guitarists whose compositions are perforated by overuse of the percussive element of the instrument. Not so here. Again subtlety is the key and Bartholomew has it, both in his playing and his arrangement.
LOW LOW LOW LA LA LA LOVE LOVE LOVE – Burrow
Brothers Kelly and Ellis Dyson are Low Low Low La La La Love Love Love, hereinafter referred to as L(9). Unfortunately they no longer exist as a band, which is a real shame, but they are releasing a final album from beyond the musical grave. Lead single Burrow has a real feeling of the mid-nineties U.S. grunge folk scene, but with all its distortion it still has a beguiling twee quality about it. There’s a joyous sense of freedom and movement throughout the song which keeps your feet tapping and your head nodding. If I had to paint a picture inspired by this song it would be of a large group of white robed revellers dancing down the street waving tambourines everywhere. And in this case, that’s a good thing.
SARAH PROUDFOOT – Mind Games
Sarah Proudfoot is part of Bristol’s burgeoning singer/songwriter scene, appearing regularly with her collaborator Tom Mitchell. The arrangement of Mind Games is good but I can’t help but feel that the delicacy of the vocals, bass and piano is somewhat overshadowed by the acoustic guitar part. While it provides the rhythmic pulse of the song it’s just a little prominent for my tastes. The opening breathy vocal harmonies of Mind Games set the tone nicely for a sparing arrangement which supports Proudfoot’s lead vocal performance, which starts with a somewhat timid, hesitant feeling but grows more assertive throughout.
STEVIE-JO DOOLEY – Pinky
Previously featured in Fresh Faves 124 last October under the name of Dooley & The Dog, Stevie-Jo Dooley and her cohorts are on fine form with Pinky – the title track from their unreleased 2014 album. The production is exquisite (as you would expect from Portishead’s Jim Barr) which perfectly supports Dooley’s vocals. Pulsing bass and an arrangement verging on the maniacle make for a really entertaining listen. The song itself is a powerful example of Dooley’s songwriting talent and musical originality. At all of 19 years old, Stevie-Jo Dooley has every right to be excited about her future. Hopefully that future will involve the release of the full Pinky LP, as that’s a record I want on my turntable.
THE ATTIC SLEEPERS – Airport
It’s not often that a song beginning with chimes keeps my attention for too long. But no sooner had the chime’s magical qualities faded, than the wintry tendrils of Airport grabbed me by the feet and dragged me in. A driving beat seems to pull you through a crisp and barren landscape which echoes the lonely quality of the lyrics and vocal delivery. The instrumental section seems to offer a (not so) fleeting glimpse of hope and warmth. You can have too much of a good thing and as much as i like the chord progression in this passage, it could be shorter. Always leave them wanting more. There are moments in the song which have an ethereal quality reminiscent of so many of the band’s Scandinavian counterparts, but this doesn’t define them. Danish duo The Attic Sleepers consist of Mathias Barfod and Matias Knigge, based in Copenhagen.
YGHD – Velvet
Velvet is the debut release of Kingston-upon-Thames dwellers YGHD, which is apparently short for Younghood. Perhaps a reference to the late-teen average age of the band, three of whom formerly existed musically as Truth About Vegas. A new addition to the “ Xplosiv’ Indie” scene, YGHD are full of energy and (I’m sure) optimism. Velvet is a strong debut – well recorded and arranged. I’d be interested to hear more songs but so young is the project that this seems to be their only track available. But it’s a pretty good start.
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.