Artists at a glance
Reflecting on the week in which we lost one of the most defiantly individual and brilliantly baffling characters in popular music history. I refer of course to The Fall’s inimitable Mark E Smith. So it is good to see that the spirit of independence and originality in new music which he always embodied is very much alive.
The standard of submissions to the Listening Post is always high but this week was especially so. So if you are one of the many whose tracks did not make the final cut, don’t be too down. The competition was fierce and all you can do is keep putting your best foot (and your best tracks) forward.
So to the ones that not only made the cut but which you, the Listening Post audience, chose as your favourites from Batch 269. And what a refreshingly eclectic selection they have proved to be.
BELLATRIX – Your Blood Only
Quirky and relentlessly upbeat pop track kicks off like London’s answer to the Go! Team before adding infectious melody to the mix. Meanwhile the backdrop remains spacey and minimal; friendly synth riffs and in-yer-face drum programme. The backing vocals add an extra sprinkling of sugar and spice to the mix.
The lyrics are slightly mockingly tongue-in-cheek. There’s no anger as such but she equally pulls no punches! Very slight shades of Ms Dynamite and Lily Allen perhaps though stylistically Bellatrix is distinct and highly contemporary.
The Glamglare website who recently made Your Blood Only their Song Pick of the Day talked about Bellatrix launching “… a firework of beats, vocal chants and quirky electronics that will leave you breathless to the end.” A bit of digging reveals that she is attracting a lot of well-deserved attention from the online music media. If so it can’t be long before we start to read and hear more.
Bellatrix is a solo artist and this is her second single release following two live shows at London venues. Your Blood Only is a celebratory slice of contemporary urban(ish) pop that could transfer easily onto mainstream radio [in this moderator’s opinion!].
CURT JUNIOR – I Found Treasure
This track kicks off with Curt Junior sounding as cool as a cucumber. Spine-tingling Fender Rhodes electric piano chords, close harmonies and shuffling funky beat set the scene. What ensues is a jazz-tinged Soul/Pop track that provides a perfect showcase for Curt Junior’s dexterous voice and melodic flair.
It helps that the musicianship on show is excellent and as a consequence the playing and arrangement are really very good. Curt’s Facebook page defines him as a DJ and Producer which leaves me wondering who the musicians on the track are. Perhaps all will be revealed as his star continues to rise. The close harmonies and the ease with which he traverses key changes and switches between major and minor suggest an innate and skillfully developed musicality.
Curt Junior operates out of Manchester and also appears in one video clip playing saxophone. His social media isn’t awash with info but his Facebook page has links and contact details.
EITHA DA – Southern Fried Ruthin
This track is an exploding powerhouse of a tune driven by melodic though occasionally dissonant (in a good way obviously) guitars and full-on rhythm section. Shades of Smashing Pumpkins, Dinosaur Jr and even Pixies at the rockier end of their particular scale. What makes it so appealing is the melodic strength both of the song itself and the accompanying guitar lines.
The filter sound on the lead vocal adds to the intensity. Cymbal is used liberally to widen out the wall of noise that surrounds the track throughout. It may sound a bit like music emerging out of chaos but you have to know exactly what you’re doing to achieve such a sonic onslaught without even momentarily compromising on precision and clarity.
Eitha Da is in fact Ben Dempsey from Wrexham in North Wales and ‘Eitha Da’ actually translates into English as ‘quite good’ (which of course is quite unnecessarily modest!). Ruthin is not in the deep South of America as one might imagine from the title but in Denbighshire. (Thanks Steff for that info). I wonder whether it has ever been namechecked in a song title previously!
I really hope Ben has a live band set up to showcase his songwriting talents because his music is ideal for that atmosphere.
EMMA SAUNDERS – I Feel Alive
Retro cool is always a tricky idea. When it works it does so because it offers enough that is contemporary in style too. Emma Saunders has recognised the need for that balance. This is, on the one hand, triplet time Soul sung with traditional gutsiness. Yet it also sneaks in drum and production sounds that betray its newness.
There are rather obvious blue-eyed soul references that she should probably get used to reading in relation to her music. Joss Stone and Adele are just two of them. Like both these singers Emma Saunders has a voice that seems to belong in a past era and she uses it very effectively. When she sways around the notes it is effortless and elegant. When she turns on a bit of grit it is appropriate and not overdone.
Emma has not put out a great deal of information about herself but she says she has recently switched from collaborating to solo work and she lists a multitude of influences which include, less surprisingly than others, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and The Shangri-Las. Led Zeppelin is a less obvious one!
FAODAIL – Adrift
Ambient enigmatic sounds take us on an ethereal journey. Images of sun rays streaking through icy clouds and vast fields of snow abound. The track builds gradually as thin layers of sound appear and disappear amid the sustained open chords and tasteful understated guitar. Beautiful impressionistic soundscapes are the order of the day. The title thus really suits the track.
There has been a notable and very welcome tendency for good quality ambient and electronic instrumental music to find an audience on national radio. BBC 6 Music has of course led that trend and Faodail’s evocative art music is ideally placed to benefit. Let’s hope so.
I have been unable to uncover much information about Faodail other than this is their second single.
GRACE SAVAGE – Just For Tonight
Polished Pop with a dance-orientated urgency helped along by pristine production and an accomplished vocal performance. This is electronic Pop with urban leanings and the track exudes personality and individual style. Her delivery at times is almost rapid-fire. The opening lyrics are busy and packed into small spaces but then this is almost immediately contrasted by a bridge that consists of sustained harmonised tones.
That the chorus sits somewhere between these two states and adds upper layers as it progresses suggests a great deal of thought has gone into the writing and arranging processes. The harmonies, which are beautifully close and tight, really add to the quality. The production is superb too, punctuated by a snappy drum programme, glissando keys and ambient noises.
Grace Savage is a singer actor and beatboxer who has already been picked up and supported by BBC Introducing. She has been the recipient of rave reviews from Clash Magazine and Notion; a fact that bodes very well.
Her live itinerary has seen her play the Radio 1 Academy in Exeter as part of the inaugural SBTV Rise and she has performed alongside MOBO winner and current radio favourite Nadia Rose.
LAKE RUTH – One Of Your Own
I love how this kicks off like a surf tune; picking guitar tunes over sparse shuffling rhythm section and loud snare drum. The female vocal however reminds me of late eighties post-punk pop in Primitives/Darling Buds territory. That is both in terms of the soft-toned but power-driven soprano register and the innate poppiness of the melody lines.
Simple but agreeable keyboard themes join the different and contrasting song sections together nicely. Structurally it’s an unusual approach. But it’s also strong melodically in every aspect and breezes along with a driving energy whilst retaining a lightness of texture. Arrangement-wise it feels like an Indie track and yet the dominant sound sitting behind the dreamy vocal lines is of busy and varied categories of synthesizer.
Lake Ruth are the brainchild of Hewson Chen, a multi-instrumentalist from New York and part of New Lines. Presumably they are UK-based (and he certainly has a history of working with UK musicians). This track is from their new album Birds of America.
MIKE MCKENZIE – Don’t Hold Me Down
Sometimes a song needs little more than a strong vocal performance and a nicely played piano. Mike McKenzie’s Don’t Hold Me Down is further evidence of this adage. The backdrop consists mainly of one-bar-long chords while the vocal is so free-flowing and raw it could almost be live. If he was to confirm that he nailed it in one take I would not be at all surprised!
The lyrics are thoughtful and the melody is melancholic and memorable. Mike’s well-honed vocal abilities suit the organic nature of the whole piece. His voice positively soars in the choruses while it is appealingly throaty and museful in the verses. There’s also a piano chord he keeps dropping a semitone down to which is just spine-tingling and pours the sweet sauce on a delicious recipe. The instrumental passages meantime allow him to expand on his attractive piano playing.
Mike is a singer/songwriter from Edinburgh who learned piano courtesy of his mother and spent some time being active as a drummer before falling in love with production. At some point he realised his potential to record as a solo artist and says Don’t Hold Me Down is a perfect example of what he wants to do music-wise. Among those he names as his influences, Pink Floyd are probably the most surprising while Billy Joel is a more obvious reference. I might respectfully suggest Daniel Powter, Gary Barlow and even Elton John as possible others.
SPINN – After Dark
A gorgeous intro with colourful guitar interplay and driving rhythm section leads into an uplifting melodic Indie track. A rueful relationship break-up story is passionately told thanks to skillful lyric writing. An appealingly bright instrumental arrangement is led from the front by resonant guitars, one providing carefully crafted chord patterns, the other concentrating on melody and colour.
There is an air of post-punk inventiveness about the track. Spinn are from Liverpool which may well explain the connection to that fine legacy. And that refers to everyone from the Teardrops and Bunnymen through the La’s and on to The Crescent. The track has an urgency that helps it along through cleverly contrasting passages of textural translucency and opaqueness, the spaces between vocal phrases are used to great effect offset by busy guitars.
Spinn describe themselves as “approachable lads” who play “jangly dream pop”. No wonder I like their music so much.
THE SMALL – Lungcutters
It can be risky to adopt this kind of wall-of-sound production but The Small are determined to capture the energy and power of their sound. They pull it off thanks to appealing vocal harmonies and a killer bridge into the main hook.
An agreeable guitar riff acts as the glue underpinned by tough bass and drums. Meanwhile a confidently wailing keyboards lift the track. The drums are loud and reverberant which completes the picture. It’s a winning mix that I imagine being a joy to experience in a live venue.
I was unable to uncover a wealth of information about The Small in terms of their history and activities but they describe this track as “wonky guitar pop/enthusiastic cry punk”. I can certainly think of much worse ways to project oneself! They go on to say “… everything should sound like a forgotten B-side by a much more weighty band. A riff, a chorus and part of a story; that’s where there is catharsis” which is certainly a unique perspective on making the ideal pop track!
Influences-wise they list The Fall (fitting given my introduction to these reviews) and a spectacularly wide spectrum of others from Kraftwerk to Wanda Jackson and from Neu! to The Wedding Present and The Pastels. Oddly they remind me of none of these but then influence is in the eye of the beholder! And that is probably one of the seven wonders of musical creativity!
So that’s it folks. Big thank you to my fellow moderator Sarah for providing vital additional info on some of the acts. Thanks again to fellow Welsh mod Steff too.
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.