All last week I was away on Other Business – which meant missing out on the whole selection process for Listening Post 194, and even on the voting for this batch of Fresh Faves.
So what we have here is democracy in action: our dedicated FOTN moderators listened to all 169 tunes in last week’s inbox then picked their own 25 favourites for you, our readers, to choose from. These Fresh Faves are the ten tracks that all of you liked best, and it’s my pleasure to listen to them for the first time and review them below…
BEWARE! BEWARE! – Levitus
The lovely loose loping live sound of a band that loves playing together is authentic and unfakeable. I cut my own musical teeth in school bands back in the 1960s playing open ended cyclical three chord songs like this – the kind of songs that were dead easy to learn – and consequently huge fun for everyone to play and jam on. Paradoxically songs of this kind are very very much harder to write than all those clever singer-songwritery ones with all the fancy changes and arrangements. Great drummer too.
Room for improvement? Vocal delivery: the singer’s got an interesting and original voice, but lacks the courage of his convictions. I’m not a huge fan of this indistinct psyschedelic style vocal approach in any case. On this track he sounds like one of those painfully shy guitarists forced into lead vocal duty because no-one else wants to do it – the ones who reluctantly go up to the mic and and mumble a few verses before gratefully slipping back into the next instrumental section.
Fronted with a bit more more assertiveness – think, say, Ian McCulloch or Richard Ashcroft – Beware! Beware! could well make themselves a force to be reckoned with.
ESTRONS – Drop
Talking of lead vocalists, Canadian-Swedish singer Taliesyn Kallström provides us with an instant masterclass on how to smash it, right here on this next track from Cardiff’s Estrons. No strangers to FOTN, the band’s track Make A Man hit both our Fresh Faves and my BBC Introducing Mixtape last October – and to these ears Drop is a better song. Taliesyn is a wonderfully able vocalist, and Estrons are a wonderfully powerful band.
However, in all kindess, records like this aren’t really for me – the songwriting is too standard and well worn, the production far too radio-friendly. The noise that comes out of my speakers on Drop does have immense power, it’s true. But to my ears it doesn’t have that edge / grit / danger (call it what you will) that separates the rock’n’roll descendants of Iggy Pop from those of Blink 182.
But to be fair Estrons aren’t making music for the likes of me, but aiming for a much more widespread appeal. I hope Drop will do well for them because they’re clearly a band who work hard and deliver incendiary live shows. Above all, as musicians they create the kind of noise that – once again – lesser players simply can’t fake.
GOLD SPECTACLES – Even
Spacious, relentless and understated – behold the lovely open, modern sound of Gold Spectacles. Anything further removed from those hamfisted three chord blues jams my schoolfriends and I used to indulge in five decades ago would be hard to imagine. Okay I come from a place called the 1960s, but a depressing number of my friends, contemporaries and fellow musicians still seem to live there.
90% of the recordings that arrive in our inbox every week sound like they could have been made anytime in the last 30 years. Some sound even older than that. The kind way of putting it is to say that such records sound “timeless” but, unless they’re carried off with genuine panache and passion, what they mostly sound is dull, dull, dull.
Of course there are other latterday artists working in the same general area as Gold Spectacles – such as Metronomy, Phoenix and Jungle . But the massively refreshing thing about Even is that it doesn’t sound remotely like anything you could have heard even ten years ago – let alone back in the 20th century.
And that’s why – with its perfect pop length of 3.16 – it was always going to grab and hold my attention, and leave me reaching for the replay button. The music light, airy, and slightly mysterious, with subtle detail and textures weaving in and out of our hearing – all driven along by an irresistible pulse and falsetto vocals of real charm and originality. In fact if you’ll just excuse me I’ll go and listen to it again. I’d warmly recommend you to do the same…
HAYDEN CALNIN – Ultra Beast
“I write, sing and produce electro folk tunes” says Australian multi instrumentalist and film school graduate Hayden Calnin and he’s not wrong. Ultra-Beast is hypnotic, ethereal and immaculately produced by a dedicated artist who knows exactly what he’s doing. With YouTube and Facebook likes in the tens of thousands, and a large groundswell of support for this track on our Listening Post over the weekend, Hayden’s an artist we’re all going to be hearing a lot more from in the course of 2016.
PRINTS JACKSON – Wear Ya Bean Son!
Prints Jackson is the leftfield project of an anonymous songwriter based in Wales. He’s no stranger in these parts, having already made three appearances on the BBC Introducing Mixtape last year alone – in February, June and September 2015. As you may remember, he’s set himself the task of writing and releasing one song a month until the day he dies. I’ve said before that his music tends to be varied, adventurous and interesting – while at its best he hits a sweet spot somewhere between experimental and accessible.
One striking feature of each of these monthly free releases is that they each include artwork by an outstanding collaborator from the world of visual arts In the case of Wear Ya Bean Son! it comes from Dave Legion: “a crazy Welsh visual artist now making waves in London and NYC who has worked on numerous adverts and branding campaigns. His futuristic creations are just one arm in his never-ending arsenal of mediums, styles and palettes. Please check out, support, love and offer kudos to Dave at http://davelegion.com”
SAMUEL WILLIAMS – Hold
Next up: a low-key, five-minute ballad in slow 6/8 time played on fingerpicked electric guitar by Samuel Williams. Originally from Truro and now based in Northwest London, he’s a songwriter we first encountered in Sam Williams And The Flock of Bats – whose delightful track Submarine featured on the BBC Introducing Mixtape three years ago almost to the day. What completely sold that song to me was the quality of Sam’s vocal. “Not everyone can open their mouth and move people simply with the sound of their singing” I wrote at the time, “but Mr Williams has that happy gift wthout even seeming to try.”
The sheer number of readers this weekend who chose Hold as one of their favourites means that happy gift is indeed still his. But it also places me personally in a minority of one, because compared to his earlier work this song struck me as disappointing to say the least. The unique texture of his voice is masked by deep reverb – and by such a lowkey delivery you can barely make out what he’s singing. At nearly five minutes, the song is also simply overlong: a potentially interesting song idea, diluted by spreading itself too thinly.
But hey, it’s just one man’s opinion: I could easily be wrong, and frequently am. There’s clearly a massive appetite among indiefolk fans out there for lengthy, lowkey fingerpicked epics from the likes of Sun Kil Moon, Bon Iver or Bill Callaghan. If that’s your idea of a good time, and for many of our readers this weekend it was, then Sam’s latest opus is definitely for you.
SURGERY WITHOUT KNIVES – In The Shadow of Love
Mariachi trumpets, Phil Spector reverb, Scott Walker drums, low-twanging Duane Eddy guitars, Ennio Morricone backing singers, and a mid-Atlantic lead vocal delivering doomladen Nick Cave lyrics – plus a band manifesto of “Love, Life, Sex, Death, Poetry and a Guitar…” Normally, gentle reader, this kind of kitsch cinemascopic posturing would have me running for the hills.
And yet somehow Surgery Without Knives pull off that whole retro Doomed Western schtick with such verve and (yes) genuine panache that In The Shadow Of Love ends up being completely irresistible rather than mere pastiche.
I have no idea who’s behind this project – and the mysterious No Name Kid 72 is at some pains to make sure we don’t find out. There are proper songwriting chops and production skills at play here, and records this clever don’t get made accidentally, or by mere beginners’ luck.
THE CULTURAL STUDIES – Automaton
Auomaton by The Cultural Studies had me at 23 seconds and is my favourite tune of the week by a country mile. If you also love this record as much I do – you may share my curiosity about the band. Curiosity at how something as fully-formed and perfect as this can suddenly arrive on our radar out of nowhere – from completely unknown artists we’ve never heard of before.
And, bless ’em, their official homepage satisfies that curiosity with a comprehensive, well written biog – that manages to be both informative and entertaining. The band is a Brussels-based immigrant duo consisting of Slovakian beatmeister Oskar – and Eric, an American poet and electroprose artist whose declaiming style you can hear to such great effect on this track.
Fellow artists take note. Notice how just those tiny snippets of information increase our understanding & appreciation of this wonderful track. A biog doesn’t need to be the length of War & Peace – or full of boastful adjectives. Even if your music is brilliant, if you leave your biog section empty on Soundcloud or Facebook, you make it that little bit harder for the rest of us to care about it. Or you. See How To Write A Band Biog.
And this music is indeed brilliant. For me, Automaton is up there with LazyBoy’s Underwear Goes Inside The Pants and X-Press 2’s Lazy featuring David Byrne. Hell, it even gives Dan & Scroob’s Thou Shalt Always Kill a run for its money. I only hope they have a UK label or agent who will upload it to BBC Introducing so we can play it on the radio.
VOES – Live Through This
The individuals in this South Wales outfit began writing original material in August 2014 and formed Voes in November that year. Now expanded from the original trio to a four piece band they consist of Harriet Whitehead, Philip Edwards, Jack Pinkett and Shane Rawdon. They cite influences as diverse as Susanne Sundfor, Florence & The Machine, London Grammar, Taylor Swift and Kate Bush.
We played the band’s debut single Giants on the BBC Introducing Mixtape in January 2015 – while FOTN moderators and readers alike voted their subsequent track In Your Eyes into our Fresh Faves last June. Live Through This – recently shared with fans and friends via Soundcloud – is by far their most polished and commercial-sounding track to date: borne out by the large numbers of readers who chose it as one of this week’s Fresh Faves.
Voes’ next live show is at Le Pub in Newport on May 5 (see their Facebook Event for more info) followed by Hay-On-Wye’s How The Light Gets In festival on June 1, and the Nozstock Festival in Hereford on July 23.
ZURICH – Chemical
Massive production and authoritative playing – born of long gigging and recording experience – characterise this opening track from the EP Small Wars, released last September by Zurich.
The band was formed in 2014 by three former members of longstanding Oxford/Banbury favourites The Scholars (Adrian Banks, Chris Gillett and Leigh Taylor) with a declared mission to “create widescreen post-punk rock with a nod to the darker side of 80’s electronic pop”.
Chemical is our final Fresh Fave – having received much love from moderators and readers alike on our Listening Post over the weekend – and we wish the band well in their new incarnation. Zurich play Bannermans in Edinburgh this Thursday (April 21) and Westgarth SC, Middlesbrough on Saturday (April 23).
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PS : if you submitted music last week that hasn’t made it onto this list don’t worry. My next job will be to listen through the whole of last week’s inbox and choose an hoursworth of tunes for my BBC Introducing Mixtape from the longlist as usual.
Even tracks that don’t get selected here on the blog will always get considered for airplay, based on what comes out of the speakers. If I like ’em, I play ’em – but don’t forget to upload your music to BBC Introducing in the first place, via this link. Among the 150-200 tunes that arrive our inbox each week, there are at least half a dozen strong ones by UK artists that haven”t been uploaded there.
And if we do feature you either in the Fresh Faves or my BBC Introducing Mixtape please do us a favour: wait three months before sending another track, so we can help other deserving artists in the meantime… More info here.