This week we received another stunning batch of tracks in our inbox, from which our moderators had to choose just 25 for our Listening Post last Friday. Our readers have had the even harder job of picking their own five favourites from that shortlist over the weekend.
Below are your overall favourites – reviewed in alphabetical order by Fresh On The Net host Tom Robinson.
You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
A BAND CALLED QUINN – From The Gutter
Oh my. I just checked and it’s seven years since we first played A Band Called Quinn on 6 Music Introducing – when we opened the show with The Glimmer Song back in February 2009. In the wake of David Bowie’s passing, pundits have had their eyes open for other examples of musicians who’ve aimed to break down the boundaries between art, pop and theatre. Look no further than Glasgow where Louise and her merry men have been, as they put it, “mixing up film, theatre & music like space socks at a psychedelic laundrette” and freely acknowledging a debt of inspiration to the Thin White Spaceboy.
From The Gutter comes from the soundtrack to Biding Time (Remix) – their multimedia production for the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe – which is up for the Arts & Business Scotland awards on 3rd February. ABCQ’s songwriting has always been pretty sharp and this sleek, sparse meditation on Ambition is their strongest to date. Pulsing energy, perfect length and an assured vocal from frontwoman Louise. If I was her A&R man my only suggestion for 2016 would be to gradually shed the mid-Atlantic delivery and allow more of her own authentic Scots diction to shine through. But the enthusiastic response on our Listening Post to From The Gutter over the weekend bodes well for its release as a single on February 1st. And good luck with those awards, gang – it’s a long overdue recognition that ABCQ thoroughly deserve.
B O A – Holier
You can hear just how much time, work and expertise has gone into writing and producing this record. [Actually, pretty much every track submitted to our inbox is the product of so much time, creative effort – and in many cases hard earned cash – that the job of whittling down 170-odd tracks to just 25 can be heartbreaking each week.] In the case of Holier, all that time and perfectionism has been applied with such focus and skill that the result is irresistible. Despite a deep personal prejudice against autotune vocals, Bands Who Have No Biog and my preference for a great deal more grit in my musical oyster, this track won me over in a heartbeat.
Anyone who’s struggled and sweated in studios for a few years will spot that this electrogroove soundscape has been carefully buffed and polished to perfection. It takes time: there isn’t a bar or a beat here that hasn’t been thought about and carefully placed in the overall sonic mosaic, over many long hours. That wouldn’t neccessarily be a good thing, if it wasn’t for the yearning falsetto vocal and the telling lyrics which carry the emotional punch of absolute conviction. As A Wise Man Said: “If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ nor no man ever loved”… This song is from the heart.
BLUFRANK – La Planète Sauvage
This oddball instrumental dropped into our inbox last week with many exclamation marks and warnings that it was a !!DEMO!! and only “Early Take #2”. But one man band / Alien / Composer / Producer / Sound Engineer / Art Director and Visual Artist Blufrank needn’t have worried. This music has already brought to life the humorous 60’s scifi dreamscape atmosphere he’s aiming for: think interplanetary travel, think PSB, think playful, think Avalanches, think fun… Once again, much time and careful thought has gone into achieving all this – I particuarly like the screaming hinge noise that follows hard upon the words “that’s fun”. And Blufrank’s astute use of visuals is an object lesson to fellow artists in How It Should Be Done. Since the rise of cheap colour printing over the last 50 years, record sleeves from Sgt Pepper to Nevermind have become an absolutely crucial component in the musical experience. As his Soundcloud and YouTube channels prove, that doesn’t have to stop now that music has moved online.
Incidentally: even though Blufrank opts not to provide the smallest factual shred of biography, he/she at least provides some cryptic context to the music in his Facebook biog. Description: “what McDonald’s will look like if it opened by night in the darkest streets in the middle of nowhere”. Personal Interests: “Looking , Watching , Touching , Hearing, Feeling”. Why does this matter? Because when bloggers blog about you, or radio people play you on the radio, we need tell our audience something interesting or entertaining about the artist they just heard. Otherwise all we can do is say “er, that was La Planète Sauvage by Bluefrank. Next up we have… a student from the Tamilnadu Music & Fine Arts University in South East India who plays five-string electric violin…” There now, you’re interested already, aren’t you?
DURAI SRINIVASAN – Journey with Nalinakanthi
To get an idea of the sort of music that normally get sent, you can listen to our entire inbox from two weeks ago right here. As you’ll hear, we get a mind-boggling number of acoustic guitar-toting troubadours, piano-bothering singer-songwriters, white male indie bands, glossy Radio 1 oriented pop song and bedroom electro instrumentals, plus a smattering of hiphop, klezmer, ska and heavy rock. And somebody will have poured their heart, hopes and dreams into every one of those 170 tracks – why else would anyone even bother recording their music, let alone sending it out into the big wide world?
And then, a week later, Journey with Nalinakanthi popped up on our moderating playlist like a breath of fresh air. Durai Srinivasan doesn’t have a BBC Introducing or Twitter account, or much online presence at all. We’d love to know more about who he is and what he’s up to and an artist biog would definitely help. But as far as we can ascertain, he’s a student at the Tamilnadu Music & Fine Arts University in South East India. He does however have a Soundcloud profile, according to which he seem to be young, charismatic and ridiculously prolific. He also seems to have recently taken possession of a five-string electric violin on which – to my untutored ear – he sounds like a ludicrously gifted performer.
However I think it’s mostly the sound and proposition of Journey with Nalinakanthi that our readers and moderators liked so much this week. Accessible, virtuoso playing in a non-western style – executed with energy and panache over a canny contemporary carpet of electro beats and tabla. To me, this sounds like just a beginning – the sound of a promising artist who’s only just starting to spread his wings and flex his musical muscles. We’re keen to hear more tunes generally from beyond the Anglo-American cultural axis: Africa, South America, Central Europe, Middle East, South Asia, China and Japan – we’d love to hear from you.
GEORGE LARLHAM – Never Give Up
Haha – now here’s a track so clunky that it absolutely shouldn’t work – and yet so inspired that it totally does. On the one hand the drums are out of time with everything and the guitar solo at 2.15 is of hilariously laugh-out-loud ineptitude. The whole track lopes and stumbles as if it’s about to fall over at any moment – like a giraffe on tranquilisers – and then stops abruptly in mid air with all four feet off the ground. On the other hand… there are harmonically sophisticated chord changes, densely crafted harmonies and effortless, hooky lyrics that should make lesser songwriters weep with envy.
The overall effect is of Sufjan Stevens channelled by The Portsmouth Sinfonia – bafflingly odd, yet completely compelling. After a few listens the bizarre truth dawns: it’s actually *meant* to sound like this. He doesn’t provide any information about the project about on any of his web pages so I don’t know just what George Larlham is playing at but I like the results very much indeed. And so, it seems, did you. “Never give up, never give in: a winner never quits and a quitter never wins”. Genius.
POTENT WHISPER – Brixton First
I’m a sucker for musical manifestos. My alltime favourite came from Rock Against Racism back when the National Front were marching on the streets of London, and punk gigs regularly getting disrupted by Sieg Heiling skinheads: “We want rebel music, street music. Music that breaks down people’s fear of one another. Crisis music. Now music. Music that knows who the real enemy is.” You tend to get artistic manifestos when music is made by people with a sense of mission and purpose – who understand exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. One such is Brit School graduate and spoken word artist Potent Whisper – and his seven word manifesto “changing the world, one rhyme at a time” offers a neat twist on a well-worn catchphrase.
“Passion” may be a severely overused word in the universe of advertising slogans, but it’s Potent Whisper’s passionate eloquence and righteous anger that made Brixton First far and away your favourite tune of the weekend. I already downloaded the song from BBC Introducing the moment I heard it last May – and played it on both my Mixtape and Saturday night shows at the time. “Occupy. Squat the lot. Cross the lines. block the shops. Run up on a mic and rock your block, but I try avoid fire that’s what they want. Real talk, London is under attack. Fuck that, I ain’t gonna live by words. Bruv, we’re gonna take London back and, sister, we’re gonna take Brixton first!” Fighting talk. Music itself may not be able to change the world, but it can soundtrack the efforts of those who roll up their sleeves and try.
RYD – Scintillate
After five hours listenening and research for this review it’s now mid afternoon on Monday. At this point I’m so fed up with artists who can’t be arsed to share the smallest fragment of biographical, factual or philosophical context to their music that I can’t be arsed to write about them either. In the case of a track this good, it’s like finding some beautifully-crafted masterpiece in an art gallery, hung on a nail with no frame around the outside, no caption, no lighting and no mention of it in the bloody catalogue. If you’re trying to sell the work, give us a clue – if you’re not, why even put it in the gallery?
As it happens, I host a weekly radio show featuring tunes from BBC Introducing, and depite the above petulant outburst, Scintillate will definitely be included on my 6 Music Mixtape later this month. Yet how much factual information do you imagine RYD has included on his BBC Introducing profile to help DJs spread the word about him on air? Go on, have a guess.
Since there do turn out to be a few tattered factual shreds about him on the excellent Chickens Are Dinosaurs blog, let’s hand the rest of this introduction over to them: “Ambient, reverby, down tempo electronics to soothe your turkey bloat, here’s the debut single from RYD. We featured this London bedroom producer aka Ryan Downie way back when he first emerged onto Soundcloud – he’s still here, and still awesome. Following a recent support slot with Pixel Fix at the Waiting Rooms, RYD’s EP is currently in the works…” So know you know.
SISTERAY – A Wise Man Said
Pointing out that A Wise Man Said sounds like an energetic retread of The Libertines is, in some ways, to miss the point. As John Peel drily observed about Bruce Springsteen, this track sounds less like the future of rock’n’roll than a re-statement of its past, but originality can be overrated. Lonnie Donegan slagged off the Beatles for trying to sound like Chuck Berry and Little Richard (“nuffink original about them – it’s just rock’n’roll, innit”) yet almost every great band starts out sounding like the sum of their influences before developing a unique style of their own. In any case, if you listen to this lyric, Sisteray definitely aren’t in the business of pleasing the likes of me.
Where A Band Called Quinn meditate on the nature of Ambition this week, Sisteray are its very embodiment. Quite apart from the fact that many FOTN regulars picked this as one of their favourite tunes of the weekend, the band radiate the sense of Men On A Mission who engage both with their audience and the wider world beyond Camden. They’ve built up the kind of momentum and energy – via incendiary live shows, I’m guessing – that’s certain to bring growing audiences and acclaim during the year ahead. And after all – John Peel notwithstanding – Bruce Springsteen hasn’t done so very badly, has he?
SVELTE – Foreign Dial Tones
Svelte are the Bristol-based electro duo of Mary Spender and Jake Bright. Since July 2015 they’ve been writing, recording and releasing their debut album one single at a time on the first of every month via Soundcloud, which makes their January offering Foreign Dial Tones the seventh in the series. The resulting album is due for release twelve months on in July 2016, and all of us can help the project along simply by giving them a little heart here on Hype Machine. Originally from Salisbury, Mary Spender is already a high-achieving solo artist and producer/engineer in her own right, having graduated from Bristol University with a BA in classical music, won the open category at the UK Songwriting Contest 2012 and reached #4 in the iTunes Singer/Songwriter charts with her solo single Willpower the following year.
Her longterm collaborator Jacob Bright is also, she says, “phenomenal at everything” – with a postgrad MA in music he runs his own business providing “bespoke music for record, stage and screen” at jacobbright.com. This track Foreign Dial Tones shows all the assurance and lightness of touch you would expect from a duo of this calibre. The subtle, undertstated production conceals considerable complexity and detail within its widescreen sonic panorama. That said, what really sells the song is Mary Spender’s effortless floating vocal: a singer, and a project, to watch carefully in the months to come.
THE PABLOS – Lose Control
The UK is home to two rival bands called The Pablos, both purveyors of US-style new wave garage rock. This particular outfit is known on Bandcamp as LeedsPablos – where an upstart Edinburgh duo provocatively calls itself TheRealPablos. I say “upstart” because this West Yorkshire combo probably have the prior claim: this song Lose Control was first uploaded to BBC Introducing in October 2009, so this is definitely a band who have been around a while, though there seems to have been a long hiatus somewhere along the line. By contrast the Scottish pair didn’t register on Facebook (or at thepablos.com) until March 2013.
Anyway, these Leeds Pablos cite their influences as “Velvet Underground, The Haunted, Rolling Stones, The Sonics, The Seeds, Thee Oh Sees, Beach Fossils” and as you can hear, that’s a pretty fair summary of the noise you get on Lose Control. This track certainly appealed to enough regulars on our Listening Post this weekend to secure them a place on the Fresh Faves. However it also appealed to Andrew Farrar, Lucie Ginno and Jim Jackson who all showed up and voted for The Pablos within 12 minutes of each other – after the Listening Post had actually closed – and none of the tracks could even be heard any more. What a great way to help your favourite band.
PS from TR: if you’d like your tunes considered for the BBC Introducing Mixtape on BBC Radio 6 Music, don’t forget to upload them to BBC Introducing in the first place, via this link. Among the 150-200 tunes that arrive our inbox each week, I hear at least half a dozen great tunes by UK artists that haven”t been uploaded there, and like it says in our guidelines: NO UPLOAD = NO AIRPLAY
If we do feature you in the Fresh Faves or BBC Introducing Mixtape please do us a favour and wait three months before sending another track, so we can help other deserving artists in the meantime… More info here.