Artists at a glance
THE HOWL & THE HUM
These Fresh Faves were picked by our readers over the weekend – and reviewed by musician, BBC Radio 6 Music presenter and Fresh On The Net founder Tom Robinson this week. You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
ADAM WEIKERT – Sloth
Earlier this year Adam Weikert gave us I May Be Some Time – a poised, enchanting 83 second piano étude from the soundtrack to an animated short by Ana Stefaniak (see below). The piece also gave its title to an interim EP prior to the release of Adam’s Pledgefunded USIDOH album from which this new piece is taken.
Sloth’s meditative mood struck a chord with our readers this weekend, and there’s clearly a deep hunger for music that reaches those inner spaces conventional pop music cannot refresh. If you liked this then you’re going to adore the album. But then even if you didn’t (and to be honest for me Sloth was very slightly disappointing after I May Be Some Time) there’s still a good chance you’ll adore the extraordinarily profound musical journey of USIDOH.
You can hear the album in full – and purchase it in lossless quality on Bandcamp. I just did exactly that – and would warmly recommend you to do the same.
AISHA BADRU – Bridges
Even three years ago the distinctive croaky vocals of New Yorker Aisha Badru marked her out as an outstanding stylist as soon as she she uploaded her acoustic demo Waiting Around to Soundcloud. Her new release Bridges proved massively popular with our readers this week – so all the work and care that have clearly been lavished on producing it have paid off. Large numbers of complete strangers fell in love with it on first listen.
To be completely honest it wasn’t really my thing – the beats and rhymes sounded leaden to my ears – but what do I know? 95% of the Top 40 each week tends to leave me stone cold, while most of my favourite records never trouble even the bottom end of the charts at all. My fellow 6 Music DJs rave over the likes of Grizzly Bear and Father John Misty – artists whose performances strike me as slightly less interesting than watching paint dry.
Anyway this weekend there were enough enthusiastic votes for Bridges by people whose opinions I respect to convince me the problem is mine, not Aisha’s. She young – with her whole career ahead of her – has a beautiful voice and performs with genuine integrity. I wish her well.
DANTE – Rose
A storming band, phenomenal energy, great songwriting, a wonderful Scots vocalist, wild driving mandolin and killer drums – what’s not to like about Rose, the new single from Dante?
The too clever by half production, that’s what. As soon as the song kicks off, rocking like a beast, you know you’re in the company of a killer live band. The sap rises, the pulse quickens, the heart pounds and, as the song builds up to the vocal entry… the bloody thing stops dead for twenty seconds of floaty atmospheric noodling under the first verse. Thankfully it picks up again and properly hits the first chorus like an express train… only bloody stop again for another bout of ambient waffle as the second verse starts. As the band members come back in one by one you can almost sense their relief as they lock back into the groove and try to get it cooking again.
Now call me old fashioned, but this strikes me as the kind of idea that could only be dreamed up in a recording studio by someone with an eye to the “most innovative arrangement” prize at the 2018 Music Producers Guild awards. I’m an admirer of Andy Monaghan’s work both as a producer and as an artist. But it’s possible his judgement might just have been a tad off-beam here. With a song this good and a band this great, the First Commandment – for every battle hardened band that ever earned its scars working beerswilling crowds up into a frenzy – should be carved in stone. Thou Shallt Not Fuck With The Groove.
But hey, our readers loved it anyway, and as for that Seán McLaughlin – what a vocalist! Dante are a band to watch, in every sense.
HOUSEHOLD DOGS – Is This All
It’s odd to realise you have less to write about a record that you utterly adore than one you’re struggling to appreciate. But thirteen words are all I need to tell you that Is This All is my favourite record this week by a country mile. With no tiresome intro, it kicks straight into the song with all the taut, impatient menace of a coiled spring, and within ten seconds it’s clear that what we have here is The Real Deal. The soundscape is deliciously sparse – underpinning an assured, yearning vocal from Declan Newcombe.
He may cite his influences as including The National, Nick Cave and The War On Drugs but frankly I’d rather listen to the sharp, fresh, understated stylings of Household Dogs than any of the above, any day of the week. Dark and mysterious, this entire record crackles with life – while the tight economical drumming is wonderfully understated. But I’ve said it already. This is The Real Deal – no ifs, no buts: just click “play” and hear for yourself.
A straight 10 out of 10.
JAMIE JOHNSON – Charlie
Whoa, hold on – the next song up is another 10 out of 10. What are the chances?
At Fresh On The Net we listen to 7,000-8,000 tracks a year, of which at least a quarter are sent in by singer-songwriters. So none of us got overexcited when these first opening bars of fingerpicked guitar hit our speakers, because to be honest it was a sound we’d heard once or twice before. But then the sound of Jamie Johnson’s voice made every one of us sit up and pay attention. By 24 seconds in, his protagonist Charlie “fumbles for his phone to block out London in the rain” and I for one was hooked.
Fresh harmonic progressions and lyrical surprises unfold throughout the song until Jamie hits us with the punchline “…while the rest of us all wonder what the fuck is coming next”. Unexpected, out of leftfield, that single swear word is all the more powerful for having been held back until the very end of the song. Once again, this is proper first division songwriting with a keen observational edge. While the lyrical sting in its tail is a great piece of artistrt, it’s more problematic for getting airplay.
Now the reason why BBC radio can’t broadcast the word “fuck” isn’t that our staff or listeners are easily offended. On the contrary it’s a word many of us use in daily conversation. It’s simply that the BBC has powerful enemies whose longterm goal is to see it crippled or destroyed – The Mail, Murdoch and half the Conservative Party to name but three. Its future funding is in serious doubt – so management are super-concerned not to hand those enemies the smallest amount of extra ammunition. None of us have forgotten the massive damage The Mail was able to inflict on Radio 2 and 6 Music thanks to the pottymouthed antics of Russell Brand.
So while I hope Jamie will upload this song to BBC Introducing so I can play it on the radio, I also hope he’ll follow the examples of CeeLo Green (“Forget You”) and The Beautiful South (“Don’t marry her, have me”) and prepare an alternative version for broadcast purposes (perhaps “what the hell is coming next”?) before doing so.
JOHNNY KILLS – Not So Bad
You’ve got to love the attitude of Brighton trio Johnny Kills who describe themselves as “a Garage-rock trio writing songs generally about being in our early 20s and clueless. And adding fuzz to everything”. While none of them is called Johnny, in true rock’n’roll tradition their lineup consists of: Timmy Kills (vocals/lead guitar), Cammy Kills (vocals/lead guitar), and Louie Kills (vocals/lead guitar). Although, they add, “Tim and Lewis are bros, like biologically”.
The visuals are sharp and funny, as are their song titles, ranging from Let’s Talk About Me to Maybe Next Year and – a favourite this – My Shirt Guy Is High. Referring to Not So Bad, they tell us “the last of our Super Sick Summer Singles is out now, and available to consumer however you please”. Our moderators and readers at Fresh On The Net this weekend pleased consumering it very much indeed.
PATAWAWA – What You Want
I’ve always liked Patawawa. Unbelievably it’s now four years since Dean Jackson played Charmer, the very first track they uploaded to BBC Introducing, in November 2013. Since then our inbox has been lit up by occasional sunshine slivers of nu-disco pop joy beamed in our direction from Matlock, Derbyshire. We featured their song Strange in 2014 and Back To Life in 2015 on the BBC Introducing Mixtape.
What You Want was one of the slickest-sounding records in our inbox this week, and was always bound to stand out after hitting the Listening Post. As a fan of the earthier sound on their early records I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, but NME Radar likened it to Calvin Harris magically time-transported back to Studio 54. Now that’s something I do know about. Having visited that legendary den of iniquity back in 1978, take it from me: the Chic and Dan Hartman records deafening New York’s glitterati back then didn’t sound much like Patawawa – or like Calvin Harris, come to that.
I so also remember Calvin performing live on my radio show in early 2007 using a battered acoustic guitar with two mangled GameBoys gaffataped to the soundboard. All of which is to say that most artists destined for greatness need a great deal of time, drive, determination, energy and experimentation before finally hitting on the killer formula that will make their name and fortune.
So while this track failed to convince me that Sam, Rory and Beth have got there yet, its success in this week’s Fresh Faves is proof that they certainly have the potential to do so.
SUZIE STAPLETON – Yesterday’s Town
Sydney-born guitarist and singer Suzie Stapleton – based in the UK since – has already made a splash here via well-chosen support slots with musical associates: Mick Harvey (of Bad Seeds fame) and Jim Jones – whose bassist Gavin Jay appears on this record alongside Gallon Drunk drummer Ian White and Suzie herself on guitar.
Yesterday’s Town is her newly-released single, currently available as a free download from her Bandcamp page, and was an instant hit with our moderators last week, who placed it on our Listening Post over the weekend where readers voted into this list with equal enthusiasm.
I used to like – and indeed use – the traditional blogger’s cliché of describing an artist as “the lovechild of AAA and BBB having a bar fight in XXX with YYY while being hit over the head by ZZZ with a bottle of Jägemeister”. In this case you’d need to bandy around names such as Thurston Moore, PJ Harvey, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Mark Lanegan and Marianne Faithfull… People would get the general idea – yet would still come nowhere close.
In fact, what she actually sounds like – more than anything – is Suzie Stapleton. The emerging new wave of assertive and gifted female artists is both urgently needed and one of the few bright spots in an otherwise ever more worrying world.
THE CAIRDS – All Falls Down
The Cairds are a three piece indie band consisting of Andy Kerr, Adam MacDonald and Blair Innes. They formed two years ago in Kilmarnock from the ashes of a previous musical endeavour, which in my book is almost always a good sign. After all, William Doyle could never have become East India Youth without that acrimonious split with The Fourfathers. But I digress.
Whatever the previous musical endeavour may have been, it’s helped The Cairds develop the kind of collective identity, swaggering attitude and focussed sound that every emerging artist needs to stand out from the crowd. Their website and official T-shirt bears the slogan “THE CAIRDS Are Better Than You” makes for a great band T-shirt, while “BUY OUR SHIT” is a far more appealing button to click than the usual “store” or “merch” link. The all-important band photo is a stunning black and white image shot against an obviously freezing Scottish landscape under an ominous sky. Top marks all round.
The whole reason Fresh On The Net even exists is to give music of all styles a fair hearing – and allow it to reach a wider audience regardless of my own, rather narrow, personal tastes. So while this tune isn’t remotely my kind of music, given that The Cairds’ influences include Catfish & The Bottlemen and BRMC, it was never intended for a 67 year old grump like me in the first place.
But given likewise that those are two of Steve Lamacq’s all-time favourite bands – and widely revered at 6 Music – I’d say our readers have probably got it right and All Falls Down richly deserves its place in this week’s Fresh Faves. Why not click “play” and see if you agree…
THE HOWL & THE HUM – I Wish I Was A Shark
We first came across York outfit The Howl And the Hum earlier this year. As it happened, Godmanchester Chinese Bridge was randomly named after a structure which (no less randomly) happened to be on my daily route to and from primary school back in the 50s. And then my new BBC Introducing buddy Emily Pilbeam just tipped them as a major new force to be reckoned with when she played their track Manea on the BBC introducing Mixtape last week.
On the evidence of this track it sounds like Em’s right, with frontman Sam Griffiths enigmatically wishing he was a shark: “I smell blood in the water… is it mine?” On a casual listen at the weekend it didn’t immediately grab me – but them’s the perils of a casual listen. As soon as I sat down to review this tune and gave it my undivided attention for the full five minutes, it blew my head off.
This is superb songwriting executed with fanatical attention to every tiniest sonic and rhythmic detail. I can’t begin to imagine how many studio hours it must take to create a sonic landscape as subtle and finely tuned as this. Lavishing studio time on a weak song won’t make it great, and a great song will still sound great even recorded on your phone. But if you take a completely extraordinary song then polish it for many days until it shines, you’ll end up with something like I Wish I Was A Shark.
Ladies and gentlemen, Emily Pilbeam is not wrong – The Howl And The Hum are a seriously great band, from whom you will be hearing a great deal more in the coming months. Starting with my BBC 6 Music radio show this Saturday.
Massive thanks to everyone who came by to vote, to our tireless team of FOTN moderators, and most of all to every one of the artists who sent us their music last week.
PS from TR: If you’ve submitted a track that hasn’t been picked for the Listening Post, our team has definitely listened to it and there’s no need to send it again: feel free to send us an even stronger track another week. The same goes if you were picked for the Listening Post but didn’t feature in our Fresh Faves.
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.