Last week we listened to a record batch of 192 tracks from our inbox, which you too can hear in its entirety here. Our moderators whittled these down to just 25 tracks for our Listening Post over the weekend, while our readers each had the much harder job of picking just five from that fine shortlist.
Below are your 10 overall favourites – reviewed in alphabetical order by film composer, pianist, arranger and FOTN moderator Glenn Maltman. You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
A BILLION LIONS – Torquay
A guy started talking to me at the bus stand yesterday and proceeded to tell me everything he’d done the previous day. Even the fact that I was reading the label telling me what materials had gone into the making of my back pack wasn’t enough to give this guy a clue. Listening to his drone, I’d lost the will to live. Now if Mr. Boring had explained his previous day in the way A Billion Lions do in this barnstormer, then not only would I have wanted life to carry on, but I’d have paid his bus fare as well! A guitar intro tells us to wake up! The vocal tells me immediately what’s going on – the weather was “overcast and grey” – yet our stalwart vocalist still gets out of bed: a hardier soul than I.
I love the straightforwardness of the lyric and the everyday story being told here. And the track is so full of energy: I won’t be needing any of those dodgy coloured energy fruit drinks any more. No, just put this on and I’ll be up there and at them. This four-piece say their genre is Loud Guitar Music” and they’re bang-on with that. A big bollocking track such as Torquay has to be played tight, and played tight it is, with power and gusto: a track that begs to be turned up and up. Sadly I didn’t have an “up and up” button on my system – just loud – but that worked fine, as my neighbours proved by banging on the wall.
DAMIEN J BRENNAN – Blood & Roses
A favourite sound for me in music is the simple use of the four to the floor bass drum – and Damien J Brennan‘s tune has got one. Hoorah! A wonderfully big chunk of reverb bass drum that takes me almost down Copperhead Road. An acoustic guitar and humming vocal intro leads to Damien’s easy vocal. He hails from County Down which, after listening to the track, was a bit of a shock because I could have seen him originating from some steaming hot American bayou. This tune to me has that hot sun easiness to it. My only quibble was that towards its finale I wanted the tune to break loose: I waited for the rest of that drum kit to come round the campfire and tell us its story – but it didn’t. It strikes me this would add a fresh element to the track without damaging it in any way.
GILLBANKS – Anxious?
Many years ago I used to drive a car with the word “Dynamic” written on it, though in fact it wasn’t very dynamic at all and I accidentally crashed it. Oops. I’ve used shampoo which also had the word “dynamic” written on the bottle, yet I’m still bald! So that was a body blow – or at least a blow to the head. But if I ever needed to teach a young Jedi musician about Dynamics with a capital D, I would point them in the direction of Anxious? by Gillbanks.
There was a sense that the opening guitar and vocal were just circling me – like a shark toying with me in some dark ocean, waiting for its moment to strike. And at 32 seconds into this song the attack occurs – an attack of beautifully controlled and well timed raucous passion. Yes, passion – it grabbed me by the throat, yelling “listen up!” But no sooner had the track got me in its teeth than it gently let go again – as if that huge sonic shark was playing some kind of cat and mouse style game.
The band show a stunning understanding of dynamics both vocally and in the instrumentation. The studio effect used on the voice is well judged and only adds to the story being told. Yet here’s the surprise: there are only two musicians on this recording: Sam Gillbanks on vocals, bass, guitar and keys – and producer Hugo Heaverman on drums. Needless to say this Dynamic duo ended up killing me with this wonderful shark of a single. When their album comes, we’re going to need a bigger boat!!
HAULA – Darkest Hour
Haula was born in Uganda, Africa and now based in London. Her website tells me that her music is “an amalgamation of rich melodies, old blues, soul and modern pop”. A fine bunch of ingredients indeed. Although on this track for me ‘ambient’ is a word that comes to mind. Not a popular word to some but for me it describes a flowing piece such as this. It flows yes but I’m not sure in which direction. I found myself drifting, not turning off, but drifting. She’s a fine vocalist and Darkest Hour is musically solid – though perhaps a trick has been missed by leaving the lovely and hugely emotional musical lift till right at the end of the track. Said lift gets you right where you want to be in this track, but no sooner has it started to take flight than it comes to an end. I’d love to hear it happen sooner in the song.
HEATH – Give Me Over
The title grabbed me: Give Me Over. I like it, and there’s a lovely copycatting of the melody between the piano and vocal at the start of this track. Then, just over a minute in, there’s a lovely change that makes you feel you’re falling – but also that you’ll be caught safely: it’s a beautiful change. Once again, it’s Heath‘s fine use of dynamics that makes this track so stimulating: the crescendo to the end is perfectly timed. On a track like this, a strong vocal performance was vital – especially at the stripped back beginning – and a strong performance is exactly what we get. I thought, at over four minutes long, I’d probably lose interest towards the end of the song. It’s a credit to the vocal performance in particular, that I didn’t.
KRISTIN McCLEMENT – No End To The Drum
At times Kristin McClement‘s lovely tones reminded me a little of Sarah McLachlan – which in my book is no bad thing at all. Acoustic guitar and strings lead us in and an unexpected brushy snare groove takes us off into the song. Later in the tune, the nice subtle use of woodwind is a nice touch, along with some arpegiated synth toward the end. This track comes from Kristin’s forthcoming album The Wild Grips. Interestingly, her website describes her music as “born of two separate worlds; the vast shapeshifting landscape of Kristin’s South African childhood, engraved with the melancholic romance of old England’s sacred woodland, rivers and valleys”. Some lovely influences indeed.
RoBoT aLiEn – The Singularity
I’m normally bitching that most songs are too long for my tastes – but in this case I was defnitely wanting more – in fact when the tune stopped it had me checking my computer to make sure it wasn’t broken. Once again we have here yet another duo making a big and seriously intense sound. This track comes from the album You’re The Problem That Will Not Go Away and this time around the big sounding duo consists of Robot Alien himself (voice/guitar/keys) plus Alec Splatt on drums. It’s big, it’s brash, its melodic and it’s well executed. There’s a wonderful bendy guitar riff in there. Yes, bendy. I can’t describe it any other way than bendy. The Singularity is fab – but just one verse and chorus too short for me.
THE BROKEN ORCHESTRA – Digital Age
I like the potential that this song has, but for me it just seems to miss the mark slightly. The build musically is nice – real nice. With some subtle cymbals adding lift – and orchestral sounds fading in, I thought “smashing, I liked that, a LOT”. But in the end the vocal performance got a bit tiresome. Not a bad voice at all – the problem was the vocal part’s rhythmic repetitiveness. Yes, this style of music requires that kind of pattern, but it almost felt like a strict metronomic one-two-three-four instead of a soulful Walk And Talk About Life. The lyrics are great, but I found myself counting that regimented one-two-three-four instead of listening to them.
Inatead I’d recommend you check out the flow on Reach The Stars – also featuring Lady Paradox – which works much better, proving this gang have got it in them for some seriously good moves. Re-recording the vocal a little looser (with some more interesting harmonies that don’t fade into the background) will nail it in all the right ways for this track. That said, our readers voted for this version, just the way it is, in large numbers over the weekend.
THE HAZEL EMPIRE – Colours
I went to a ballet once, thought it was magical. I saw a ballerina glide and jump so beautifully, round and round in and out. Just like the vocals on this track which danced round my brain with their flowing gowns of silk flicking at my nerve endings. The track opens with a pad that oozes and crumples, then leading to a crunch rhythm guitar and a four to the floor bass drum. A beautifully simple arrangement with building blocks of lush vocals. A vocal-only finish ends this beauty – and it’s gorgeous. The lyric “I don’t want to stay” was the exact opposite of what I felt while listening. It made me want to stay in the company of this track all night until my own Colours had faded…. Jo, Grace and Nadia (collectively Liverpool’s The Hazel Empire) I salute you.
VICTORIES AT SEA – Up
You know that the sound of industry is an incredibly musical thing. Next time you’re near a noisy industrial area somewhere, listen to the rhythms and tones. And it’s an industrial landscape rhythm that begins this track, leading into a chunk of synth lower end. Already my head is going from the forward to the rear position – like a giant piston working some great machine. My girlfriend dances in front of the open firelight like the opening credits to Tales Of The Unexpected (though no doubt you’re all too young to remember that show?)
And that’s the thing with this track by Victories At Sea, it’s a body mover: a thick solid groove that you can fluidly twist to or jaggedly spit and shoot your limbs out at. A great, almost dissonant at times guitar break smashes through like dynamite in the coal seam. The vocal is sung arrow-straight and on listening it’s obvious this is the only way it could have be done – and it’s done with fine control. Perhaps, at over four minutes long, Up could have possibly been a fraction shorter for my tastes, but it never became monotonous. It also never strays too far from its starting progressions but – for this track – that’s a very good thing indeed.
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.