The first Fresh Faves of 2015 set the bar high for the coming year. We received a 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.
ALI WARREN – Where You Wanted
For a man whose voice rarely descends from the clouds Ali Warren‘s songwriting is nothing if not surefooted, his wavering caw tripping a weightless caper over what seems at times a tormented musical landscape. There is a jagged fragility to Where You Wanted that builds dramatically into a dizzying mantra, the song’s hookline repeating and spiralling to near maddening effect.
A particular highlight for me is the sense of escape in the latter half as the strings build in vigour, as if bursting out from beneath a densely oppressive woodland canopy like frenzied birds fighting their way clear of the clinging forest creepers whilst the once unfettered vocal is dragged down into the sodden undergrowth, the song struggling relentlessly on towards a cathartic baroque denouement.
BAXTER DUNLOP – It’s A Waste
Possessed of a clarity of purpose peculiar to only the most accomplished of digital alchemists Baxter Dunlop has, in the song It’s A Waste, fashioned a perfect – though some might argue an unavoidably clinical – example of truly sophisticated pop music. Intelligent as well as instinctive, it’s art but there’s definitely a science to it. I admire the singular vision required to craft such a piece, an ordered delirium witnessed through a microscope, a kind of clockwork antfarm humming and whirring under the glass whilst elsewhere Time attends to its little demolitions in the nooks and crannies of unregulated life.
BORED HOUSEWIFE – Laugh Laugh Clap Your Hands
York-based but Belfast-born Bored Housewife are an acoustic folk-punk band inspired for the most part by throwaway pop culture and the wider decay of Western Civilisation.
Faux naïveté is a trecherous blade but these misfits wield it with laudably indifferent potty-mouthed aplomb. I certainly share many of their itemised frustrations and am all too familiar with the dreary everyday evidences of a society in decline. Would “Joke Folk Social Realism” be a fair or unfair label for this anthem to apathy?
I must admit though, I can’t help but find their anaesthetised view of a rudderless generation a little too close for comfort. Really I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to laugh or cry.
COROLLA – Fight For Kingfisher Island
Formed in 2012 by Tony Pigram, Corolla is a collective from Watford, comprised of between four and nine members, all from various other projects scattered across the South.
One never quite knows where one stands with side projects and collectives, there’s often a threat of self-indulgence or, worse, self-medicating. But in Corolla one gets the impression of a single will at the helm steering the tempestuous course between a knowing long-haired 90s grunge appreciation and something a bit more modern and open to influence.
This song is, to my mind, a bit too long. I like to wallow in the glory of thick harmonies and meaty riffage as much as the next man but this sounds like an extended live encore arrangement rather than a tight studio number. The guitar solos sometimes meander a little aimlessly causing the track to lose its way.
I only dish out such specific criticism because it’d be a shame for Corolla to miss out on future radio play simply for not picking the right battles. Some edits are unwelcome compromises, others are judicious pruning. (No pun intended Corolla)
DULL & DECENT – Prettiest
Enigmas abound in this new offering from Dull & Decent (who longtime FOTN visitors may remember from Faves 104): Who exactly is the prettiest? What is this prettiness relative to? Here the disorientated listener is marooned without context, reliant solely on the discretion of our excitable narrator. After repeated listens I can only assume the general standard of objective prettiness is high and that the specimen in question is unarguably, ecstatically, heroically the pinnacle of said prettiness.
This is a song that gleefully wrongfoots and suckerpunches the listener at every lurch and stagger. It begins with a tastefully aggressive and unapologetically misleading guitar part ushering us in like a kick to the tailbone. Later we are steered towards a baffling menagerie of animal references before being rolled headfirst into what feels like Irvine Welsh waking up from an erotic dream and sleepily clutching at one last rapidly fading notion before it is swallowed up forever by the fog of reality.
I’m not sold on some of the rhymes but there’s a slightly sinister club-chucking-out-time-what-are-you-looking-at flavour pervading the whole thing that acts like a gob in the face of rational critique so I’ll let that slide.
LUKE DE-SCISCIO – Patterns Of Revolution
Currently moored on a narrowboat in the South of England, Anglo-Italian singer-songwriter Luke De-Sciscio casts his imagination adrift for the beautiful and utterly mesmeric Patterns Of Revolution.
The song opens like a gentle freefall into the hollows of a colossal vault or underground reservoir, before the listener is eerily buoyed up by the iridescent tones of a solitary figure hopelessly addressing the trickling stalactites overhead, loosening their structural integrity with the resonance of his voice, as sure and remorseless as an icepick, awaiting the inevitable moment when the mineral concretions finally splinter and detach, plummeting down upon him. A gorgeous piece, brave and startling.
I don’t think it needs the guitar outro though.
MARTIN CALLINGHAM – Knots
Martin Callingham is no stranger to Fresh On The Net; he was previously featured in Fresh Faves 28 under the moniker Joyce The Librarian. Now he returns under his own name.
Knots is a lean and focused number, with softened edges that never threaten to temper its fundamental sturdiness. Nothing is overdone here, there’s plenty of space, the changes are gradual, no broad strokes but infinitesimal shifts up and across, the rhythm insistent yet subtle as a pulse and just as vital. On it goes, striding quietly forward, leaning into the wind, the materials on the periphery fading strand by strand until, before you know it, you’re flying.
His new album is released on Folkwit Records next month.
ROPE STORE – Get Me Out
There’s currently not a lot to be found online about this newly-formed multi-instrumentalist duo from Norwich. Fortunately they respond quickly to messages and told me their names (Jason Baldock and Gemma Dietrich) and that their bandname was inspired by a Norm Macdonald comedy sketch.
Though still finding their feet, there’s certainly nothing naive about their 60s-inspired flower-grunge; these two know what they’re doing, putting to work a veritable museum of vintage analogue equipment in Baldock’s recording studio (located in a disused nuclear bunker… naturally). So what Rope Store lack in web presence they more than make up for in ready-made personal mythology. And I just love how they’ve thrown themselves into it all with such unfakable gusto (this track was only recorded last week!).
Apparently the two have plans to expand into a seven piece but I hope they don’t complicate things too much. Right now they sound like a set of furious marionettes crashing about at the bottom of a toybox desperately wishing themselves real through gritted smiles. And that’s good.
SHE DREW THE GUN – If You Could See
I don’t know who came up with the genre “glacial blues” in She Drew The Gun‘s biography but it’s a near impeccable summation of Louisa Roach’s vocal performance – her delivery is as majestic as an iceberg and twice as lethal. And yet it smoulders too… enough to thaw even the most well-intentioned of temperature metaphors. This song had me hooked right from the first strains of the tremolo guitar, irresistibly reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang. There’s also a certain Bond-theme quality to it: I couldn’t help but entertain the thought of silhouetted figures trapezing off the smoking barrels of kaleidoscoping pistols.
But you don’t need the likes of me over-thinking such things. This is a song that grows and creeps and slithers over its audience, swallowing them whole like musical quicksand. And doing it oh so slow.
TIGERCATS – Sleeping In The Back Seat
In their relatively short life London-based Tigercats have gigged their twinkly indie pop tunes across Europe and the USA whilst simultaneously hopping between labels like a frog between lilly-pads.
It no doubt reveals more about the reviewer than the reviewed when I admit this band whets my skepticism a bit. But I lay the blame squarely with the stubborn remnants of Winter humbuggery rather than Duncan Barrett’s Summery songwriting – I do not doubt Tigercats‘ sincerity, nor their intentions, but for me this number is a little too assured in its hairflicking insouciance, like À Bout De Souffle retold as an Instagram feed with Isobel Campbell coining the hashtags. Sleeping In The Back Seat is as dreamy as it is watertight and that makes me suspicious. Well done Tigercats, you’ll probably do just fine.
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.