Last week our moderators listened to over 180 tunes that arrived in our inbox between Monday and Thursday, and picked their 25 favourites which we published over the weekend on our Listening Post. Our readers then collectively voted for their own personal favourites over the weekend – resulting in the set of tunes you can hear on this page: our Fresh Faves, picked jointly by moderators and readers alike. They’re lovingly reviewed this week by Team Freshnet stalwart Louis Barabbas – artistic director at Debt Records and famed frontman with The Bedlam Six. You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
AGE OF THE MACHINE – Ascend
Age of the Machine is the electro-synth side project of Lee Maguire from the band Mercury Machine and, frankly, his nom de guerre says it all. This is a formidable, implacable, immovable entity, with a gridiron muscularity caged around clever configurations of intertwining melodies. Ascend evokes Harold Faltermayer’s legendary 80’s synth-pop soundtracks (Running Man, Top Gun etc) but stands assuredly beyond any lingering shadow that such works may cast, its rolling pulsating modulations mounting towards a climax of coldblooded efficacy.
BED. – Fremm
I don’t know what a Fremm is. Some kind of frigate I think. I don’t think they’re talking about frigates though. Ah frig it, who cares, I’m such a sucker for this band. I don’t know how anyone can combine that breed of peering-over-sunglasses-buddy-you’re-in-my-light coolness with a natural follow-me-my-children authority. It’s bewildering, maybe it has something to do with them being from Portland and actually having a good reason for singing in that lovely Screw You accent. The last time Bed. (oh how I adore that sulky little full stop/period, man they make me so crazy) were on the Listening Post I went over to their Bandcamp and bought the track immediately. Now I watch them up there on that tightrope – so nearly a nostalgia act but also inarguably very much of the Now – wonderfully insouciant and yet also joyfully seductively aggressively morose. Damn it Bed., come over here and slap me right across the face. Leave your rings on. Do it again. Thank you, I needed that.
BEST BOY GRIP – Sharks
You had me at “chop me up and throw me in the sea…” This is a great song, with a hook to balk a Great White. I’m not surprised it got so many votes from our listeners. This is clever and playful without being showy or smug (and is chockfull of subtle gems – “baited breath” is a fish-bait pun right? right?) and if you slit open the song’s belly you’re sure to find all sorts of unlikely flotsam and jetsam from the author’s past rampaging through the cultural depths. Much like its subject this is a track with multiple layers of teeth – once it locks jaws you’ll be dragged down to wherever it wants to go. Did you know some sharks shed approximately 35,000 teeth in a lifetime? Well Best Boy Grip‘s Eoin O’Callaghan has musical teeth to spare. We’re going to need a bigger boat.
ELLENBERG – Cities Between Us
As I sit and write this on a drizzly Manchester night I look at the image accompanying Ellenberg‘s Cities Between Us – a trim young man in shorts perched on a balcony gazing down at some colourful port town on the Cote d’Azur (or equivalent Mediterranean pleasure haunt, do let me know) – and I think “this is a musician who wants me to hate him”. But I wrap the blanket around myself a little tighter, throw another demo on the fire and ignore all my prejudices and jealousies. This is a song that radiates the sort of forgivably naive optimism that I will not sick my rampant cynicism on. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if its assured anthemic credentials earmark the track for en end of exams montage sequence one day. There’s a guileless euphoria at work here that I envy. I must admit this kind of pop leaves me a little cold. But then, where I am, it’s probably not Ellenberg‘s fault. He’s the one in the sunshine.
LULL – Bubble Tea
I was a little worried for the first ten seconds. That guitar intro induced a disturbing Sixpence None The Richer flashback. Fortunately it turns out we’re facing towards a completely different corner of the 90s and are spared the mediocrity; the twangly little bird pecking at the middle of the road just got obliterated by a juggernaut in the eleventh second. Phew. And yet despite the overdrive and slightly dissonant chord chugs and those occasional yelps of feedback Lull is an apt name for this group. There is a certain somniferous quality to their Bubble Tea. Perhaps there are opiates brewed into it. That might explain why it’s so addictive.
MONO LIFE – Falcons
If you were to phone up Blade Runner’s Tyrell Mega-Corporation I imagine this might be the hold music. Mono Life‘s Mark Osborne is not to be found on some off-world colony, however, but far closer to home, specifically Yorkshire. I can’t help but imagine these little circuitous blips and whirls to be the digital ravings of a long abandoned pocket calculator dribbling its rust-hued goo onto the playground tarmac all weekend – within its poor raving locked-off metal mind there is still a quietly relentless symmetry. Round and round goes the tune like a pixel facsimile of some computer-imagined bird, the titular falcons hunting nothing but a meaning in their own internal matrices. For some reason I’m reminded of the old Channel 4 Schools rotating logo from the 80s. Do you remember that? No, I thought not. That tune also faded out, so one might assume its still playing somewhere, maybe in computer heaven. I reckon that’s where this little falcon is bound.
RICHARD KAPP AND THE GOWNS – Say Hello
And suddenly it’s Spring, so say goodbye to the snow. I sure hope Richard Kapp is right because I’m definitely ready for some sunshine. But whatever the weather outside I am unashamedly thawed by this cautiously jolly number. I admire anyone who can carve out intelligent and mannered pop music without over-reliance on the safety nets of whimsy and irony. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Kapp is located in Vienna and describes himself as “living between sarcasm, melancholy and hope” – so a man after my own heart then. The Gowns‘ new album “Fake!” is released in May.
ROB ST JOHN – Surface Tension
Surface Tension is proving somewhat immune to my usual glib reviewing style. All I can say is it’s a truly sublime piece, perfectly poised and utterly incandescent, washing all hopeful metaphors downstream into silent shriveling reverence. I shouldn’t really be surprised at the cogency of this beguiling piece when I examine the composer’s CV though; alongside all his soundscapes and visual commissions Rob St John is also associated with Song By Toad Records, one of the finest indie labels in the UK. They have good taste. Surface Tension is part of a wider project exploring pollution, life and biodiversity along the River Lea in East London, commissioned by Thames 21’s “Fixing Broken Rivers” project last year (learn more about it here).
TONY PENULTIMATE – House Of Croon
Tony Penultimate (aka Peter Brooke Turner) was born in Portugal and brought up in the Soviet Union, Brazil, America, Finland and Italy, yet despite such continental leapfrogging his musical sensibilities and humour seem rooted in England – but an England of the Music Hall era rather than the Music Blog era. In addition to being a full time member of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain he has worked with the likes of Des O’Connor, Jules Holland and Vic Reeves (it’s the latter that particularly excites me here – I like to think they collaborated whilst buckarooing on the back of an enormous furry moth… don’t disillusion me Peter!). House Of Croon concerns itself with an infestation of easy listening luminaries. Still, as hauntings go it’s an enviable soundtrack. I wonder, however, if its narrator should be more worried about the ghost of Viv Stanshall skulking the corridors – he certainly casts quite a shadow here. Let’s hope the fumigators are selective – as far as I’m concerned they’re welcome to Buble and Manilow but, please, show clemency on the rest.
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.