Artists at a glance
HEAVY ON THE MAGIC
MAN & THE ECHO
SHE MAKES WAR
THE MOUTH OF GHOSTS
AIRPORT 85 – Can You Feel Pain?
Can You Feel Pain is charged throughout with a strange species of measured passion that belies the track’s dream pop credentials, imbued as it is with a lazy insistence owing something to the mid-90s yet still resolutely fettered to the present. I have great respect for artists who take their time and hold fast to a course, even if it risks a few tune-outs. Nat Saunder’s tenacious vocal melody picks its way across a throbbing landscape towards a violent second act that I was not expecting, lifting the song beyond its cozy beginnings into something more fraught and tempestuous.
EXEC – The Explanatory Gap
Composer Troels Abrahamsen describes himself as “trying to live a peaceful life in Copenhagen”. I suspect the operative word here is “trying”. The Explanatory Gap hints at an artist struggling with distractions of an internal variety rather than any surrounding corporeal terrors. Is it possible to be entirely convinced by a song’s sentiment if one doesn’t completely grasp what that sentiment is? For I feel entirely won over by this. The combination of voice and piano here is exquisitely effective, like a weather-ravaged coracle tossed upon a capricious river. I am slightly unsettled by EXEC, I have surrendered to this song without any show of force or intent.
GRACESARAH – Birdaha
What exactly does Birdaha allude to? If it’s from the Turkish Bir daha – meaning Again or Once More – then I agree, this tune certainly warrants repeated listening. With its discerning production and understated catchiness the song effortlessly demonstrates why this seventeen year old singer-songwriter is earning so many plaudits.
But there is another repetition worth noting beyond this almost mantric of hook-lines (and my spurious attempts to demystify it): that most caustic word “unsigned” can be found in every bit of web-space colonised by GraceSarah, permeating each About and Biog section like the text in a stick of Brighton Rock. The woman in question was only a year old when the traditional music industry began to unravel at the hands of Napster and its digital kin so I’m baffled as to the origins of this stubborn fealty to an old guard of dusty gatekeepers. I recommend you stop worrying about signing record contracts and focus on being a success on your own terms – you’re already off to an impressive start with all the endorsements from Burberry etc.
You’re not Unsigned… you’re Un-tethered. And you’re also very good.
HEAVY ON THE MAGIC – The Bug
Magic? This is heavy on the everything. I do like it when a band can snarl convincingly, it’s the universal passport to rock infamy. Chris Haddon certainly has no problem with the lip-curling delivery. An ear-worm is one thing but what’s the insect equivalent to describe a song like The Bug? Ear-wig I suppose. But that won’t do. Oh that’s really going to bug me.
The track is wonderfully deranged, hard-edged with a playful menace scuttling up from within; characteristics that build on the formidable groundwork laid by Haddon’s last band The Minx (an ensemble much beloved on the Manchester live circuit).
I know Chris a little, as does anyone who’s ever been inside Blueprint studios. The last time we met he was manning the Blueprint stall at BIMM’s freshers’ fair and I was manning the Musicians’ Union one. Between us was the pole-dancing display team – a whirlwind of legs and leotards. It was a pretty surreal afternoon. Actually, come to think of it, I think Chris may have taken some inspiration from those dancers in his choice of trousers for the The Bug’s accompanying music video.
Fortune favours The Bug.
MAN & THE ECHO – I Don’t Give A Fuck What You Reckon
Did you know that Warrington was recently voted the least cultural place in Britain according to the RSA’s Heritage Index? This has to be nonsense, I was only there the other day and that was for a gig. Gigs are definitely culture. But it would explain why Man & The Echo are so good. Brilliance has a habit of heaving its way up out of the smothering mundane (think of The Specials and Coventry).
From the very first line I knew what this song was about. For I too have been tormented by this scourge. Just as I too have contributed to this scourge’s sorry magnitude. This musical anti-status-update could become an anthem for our times. Social media does indeed deserve every single one of the twenty four profanities unashamedly spat out of this glorious assault on web-based narcissism.
It’s a glorious piece of work. Assured, relentless and irresistible. That’s my verdict of the song, not the description under the photo I’ve just uploaded of my artisan baguette.
RICHARD WALTERS – July Bones
I’m always amazed at the ever-dwindling degrees of separation among music practitioners. On Richard Walters’ website I read that among his many collaborators is the poet Simon Armitage, a former student of my mother’s. A strange link.
Leaden sentiments are made to soar in Walters’ loose adaptation of T. C. Boyle’s “Drop City”, the subtle developments in production coupled with gradually swelling harmonies swirl and eddy like singed remnants caught on the updraft of burning artifacts. Not even a bonfire of memorabilia on a warm Summer evening can invade the mordant chill of loneliness that suffuses the marrow of these July Bones.
SAMEBLOD – Fade Out
I never get invited to these sorts of parties. You know, the kind where everyone is beautiful, all the drinks are see-through, everything fits geometrically into everything else, the rooms are open-plan, no wall paper, just whiteness painted direct onto plaster, two coats, the occasional mounted canvas, perhaps a muted Rothko imitation, sofas that curve around things but have no pennies or keys trapped down the upholstery, one wall is entirely glass, there’s an evergreen forest outside dusted with snow that possibly isn’t snow but maybe polystyrene or paper, yes probably paper, it’s more bio-degradable. Well I can’t be sure, I’m not invited to those sort of parties. You know, the ones full of healthy waifs with little slip-on shoes and pastel slim-fit knickerbockers with a healthy sense of irony about their tech start-ups and a preference for dark chocolate but no dark chocolate stains on anything and the suggestion that maybe there’s a cat somewhere and everything happens in slow motion.
SHE MAKES WAR – Slow Puncture (Disarm:15)
Anyone who’s ever driven with a flat (or flattening) tyre will know there’s a strange set of accompanying responses that can be neatly mapped onto the death throes of a cherished relationship: confusion, realisation, denial, irritation, fury and acceptance. For a brief time there is even a pigheaded hopefulness that one can just keep journeying on regardless, if only for a few moments. And that’s what I like about the songs of She Makes War – though the subject matter is frequently morose there is always an essential hopefulness at work: the light shining over the problems is at once shining over the solution. I guess that’s the crucial thing about gloom (and by association Gloom Pop): it isn’t abject darkness. One can always just about see through to the other side, even if the glow emanates from the eerie phosphorescence of advanced decay.
SPARES – I Like It
“Don’t mess with us” threatens their Twitter blurb. “Don’t mess with us” growls their Facebook About-field. “Don’t mess with us” grumbles their Soundcloud biog. Someone must have messed with them once. And they really didn’t like it. Either that or this is a cry for help, like a teddy boy who’d like nothing more than to trade his flick-knife for a sewing kit. I’m tempted to give them all a hug.
But first I’d like to know more about them. I know the name of their manager and that they’re based in Liverpool but that’s pretty much it. What are their dreams? What are their secrets? What are they doing in that old building with the girders poking through the concrete?
OK look, I’m just going to come straight out and say it: I think this song was written to be used in an advert. That contagious chorus would work well exploding forth beneath a phrase like “discover your potential at Warwick University” or “exude confidence with our unique line of antiperspirants”. This appraisal will no doubt be interpreted as a low blow but it needn’t be. One decent high profile TV placement will probably mean they’ll out-earn the rest of this playlist combined. There’s an abundance of energy and precision to the playing, but as rock goes it’s a bit too careful for my taste. The track is really very well constructed, seamless even – there’s not an ounce of flab. But cynically motivated I think.
Still, high times are on the way: a good sync deal can buy a lot of leopard print jackets and turtle-necks.
THE MOUTH OF GHOSTS – Somebody Like You
The opening credits to Spectre would’ve been greatly improved if they’d given the soundtrack job to The Mouth Of Ghosts rather than Sam Smith. But life is full of injustice. This is a great groaning seductive leviathan of a track, a towering monument to the old adage about Hell’s fury versus women scorned. The accompanying music video also provides a pretty convincing femme fatale to rival any would-be Daniel Craig, coolly filling a jerry can at a service station before driving a bemused looking and oddly compliant young man to a cliff edge and dousing him in petrol.
“Silly me for loving you” vocalist Yannis half sings, half taunts – a one woman hurricane of triumphant regret, hurt turned to glorious exultant rage, her needling hindsight applied along the cross-hairs of a sniper’s rifle. I feel this is a cautionary tale to both parties.
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.