Artists at a glance
THE BOOKSHOP BAND
So the British Winter finally arrived somewhat later than planned and, in typical fashion, managed to cause mayhem, bring the country’s transport systems to a standstill, close schools and workplaces and then disappear again all within the space of a week!
In the meantime it has coincided with another strong week with nearly 190 initial submissions, which we had to whittle down to 25 for the Listening Post, so once again don’t be downhearted if yours was one of the tracks that wasn’t chosen.
One or two contributors have mentioned the snow effect on their listening preferences this week. This seems to have manifested itself in opposite directions with some people choosing warm summery tracks as an antidote to the cold weather and others being drawn to icy wintery ‘music to watch snow by’. Anyway, whatever the science behind it, here are your favourites.
BELLE OF THE FALL – Rise Up
The way this song has lodged itself in my brain over the past few days has been extraordinary. The Indie Folk duo have worked up a gem of a piece characterised by irresistible melodies and increasing layers of lovely harmony and vocal overlaps. It’s all accompanied by a delicious cocktail of strings, banjo, acoustic guitar and upright bass.
Rise up begins like a Simon & Garfunkel track but then takes off in a more contemporary direction, [very] broadly Fleet Foxes/Mumford & Sons territory, although the tune at times brings the Beatles to mind! While the voices lead the line, the instruments jangle away over descending bass figures. There are no breaks in the continuous momentum here. It just builds at its own pace and burrows deeper and deeper into the listener’s sub-conscience. In a perfect world this would be No 1 in about 14 countries across the world.
The pair from Connecticut, USA are Julia Autumn Ford and Tracy Walton. Both have been solo artists. Walton owns a studio and he employs Ford to work in the video department which is kind of cool in itself. Hopefully they won’t get too sick of each other’s company! Their voices complement each other really well. Ford’s voice is crystal clear and otherworldly while Walton’s is a little grainier.
Belle of the Fall retain a busy live schedule around the states surrounding Connecticut so we obviously have to hope they will visit these shores soon too. If radio shows here cotton onto what an infectiously catchy and well-constructed track this is, who knows?
Rise up is Belle of the Fall’s first new release since their debut album Earthbound in 2016. Their second album is scheduled for release in April 2018. So watch out for more news of this intriguing duo.
BETHLEHEM CASUALS – Mind’s Eye
Jaunty and rhythmically interesting high tempo Alt Pop. Octave vocals and an impressive falsetto ride atop busy bass and drums, chugging guitars and rasping jazzy Sax, which then shunts the voices aside and takes on the lead role for a sizeable chunk of the track.
The octave-apart vocals bring to mind early Squeeze while the free flowing and intricate instrumental play reminds me at times of the Blockheads. Not that there is anything excessively retro about Bethlehem Casuals. More contemporary names that come to mind include the likes of Justice and Grandaddy. It’s frantic, brimming with electrical energy, and rounded off by catchy and agreeable melodies.
Bethlehem Casuals are of course not from Bethlehem although their Bandcamp page does claim they make ‘music Jesus would listen to’! They are in fact a septet from Manchester. They also have an album out called Feels on Wheels. You can download the album and read about them at their Bandcamp page.
BRYDE – To Be Brave
A striking, perfectly exposed voice gets straight on with business over initially minimal guitar backdrop before the track begins to build with the introduction of synth strings and a sort of distant ambience. The song is emotionally charged and dynamic with a melody that cannot be resisted for long.
Midway into the track, drums appear and the arrangement fills out quickly. This just spurs Bryde on to turn her vocals up another couple of notches on the intensity scale. It’s a joy to hear a track where so much thought and invention has gone into the arrangement and performance.
Bryde is London-based West Wales-born Sarah Howells, a guitarist and singer/songwriter who describes her songs as ‘fierce and fragile… swaying from vulnerable to uncompromising’; traits that are certainly in evidence on To Be Brave. Completing her band’s line-up are Jay Chakravorty and John Harris.
Judging by tour dates taking in Ireland and the UK, they are busy getting out there and heard too. Check out their Facebook page for more info.
CLOUD – Luxuria
I’m a sucker for very British Hip Hop combined with soulful female voice and this fits that very bill. Moreover the lyrics are intelligently written with a healthy sprinkling of humour here and there despite its rueful nature.
The rap is rhythmically free flowing. When he flies against the flow of the beat it is quite exquisite and underlines his talent and expertise. The breakz add to the atmosphere while haunting sax joins the fray near the end too.
Cloud is 23 year old Omar Walton-Jeffers from South East London whose dreams of an acting career took him to Aberystwyth where by all accounts he went to hell and back, struggling to come to terms with his situation and falling out with family. One day he looked up from the beach at the sky and found the inspiration for the name Cloud. Since then he has experimented with taking Hip Hop in a variety of directions and, as this fine track clearly demonstrates, the boy has a serious talent. And by the way he is a multi-instrumentalist too.
I really hope his success on Listening Post can be the catalyst for wider recognition. The music industry here needs to embrace unique talent like his.
HIPPO – Gromet
It isn’t every week we get to have a piece of mind-spinning Jazz Futurism at the Listening Post. So it’s exciting to see so much support for Hippo’s energetic combination of virtuosic improvisation and live electronics.
This could easily have been one of those tracks on which one admires the musicianship but isn’t engaged by the overall result. But it isn’t. This is exciting from the moment it kicks off with syncopated rhythm; improvising musicians interacting with fluttering electronic notes and sounds. The musicians get to stretch out and dazzle with their playing skills but they remain faithful to the template of exciting, contemporary and cohesive. The track itself develops through several themes and plenty of unscripted solo play.
Hippo are a trio from Bristol consisting of Doug Cave – Composition/Saxes/Synths; Henry Binnings – Synths and Toby Perrett – Drums. Presumably Doug Cave’s role as composer is a key factor in creating music that is at once accessible to the curious listener but allows the trio to be spontaneous and expressive. It would be interesting to know how Toby Perrett works with the electronics given the freeform energy of his playing. Is Henry Binnings the electronics genius here or just a damn good synth player? Maybe I should interview them one day so I can ask these questions!
Gromet is taken from Hippo’s debut EP and is available to download at their Bandcamp page.
MALMØ – We Come From The Stars
If there was going to be a Listening Post Batch 274 anthem for a week of snowfall it would be this uplifting track, which despite a certain element of melancholy has a lovely melody sung in dreamily ethereal fashion by the track’s writer Maria Malmoe, while what sounds like pedal steel guitar glides gracefully across echo guitar chords and a solid rhythm section. An appealing and upbeat lyrical theme completes the job. This is definitely music to watch snow by.
Malmø are actually Danish and hail from Aarhus (not Malmö in Sweden, that part comes from the singer’s name!) and are signed to legendary Bedford indie label Integrity Records. The aforementioned Maria Malmoe fronts the band and is their creative driving force. That’s not to belittle the contribution of her fellow musicians whose bright imaginative playing lifts the song.
Malmø are a quintet and We come from the stars is the title track of their debut album. They have toured the Baltics, but I do not know if and when they plan to visit the UK.
MILO SEABIRD – Days Disappear
A shuffling beat, laid back guitar jangle, super-deep bass and carefully crafted instrumental colour provide the perfect accompaniment for a reflective soft-toned tenor vocal. The melodies are strong (I say melodies because not only is the vocal melody strong and appealing but there are lovely tunes emanating from guitars and keyboards too as their prominence in the mix alternates and adds to the fluidity of events). Overall it is cohesive, compelling and sucks one into further listens.
Influences here are hard to pinpoint; possibly because it borrows from about four different decades of music! The harmonies bring to mind some of the loved up classics of the late sixties and early seventies like Love, Crosby, Stills & Nash and probably a host of others. The melodic guitar figures and subtle chord changes have an eighties Indie quality while the bass and drums are subtly jazz-tinged. It isn’t all things to all people by any means but I have the sense that, if you surveyed 100 listeners, they would throw up a plethora of seemingly unrelated comparisons!
Unfortunately I have not been able to uncover any information about Milo Seabird. Even searching in google reveals nothing. Hopefully the success of this track with the Listening Post audience will draw more information.
SAN BLAS – Drive
San Blas have an unusual sound that comes from blending traditional Rock sounds with that of the Ukelele (leading them to define their music as Island-inspired Rock). It does ensure their sound has a unique character.
The lead vocal has an edginess that is contrasted by their tendency towards harmonies and semi-orchestral sounds. The overall effect is of an epic, almost filmic quality although the song is firmly in Alternative Rock territory. They have a good ear for melody and the combination of textures and timbres is quite splendid.
San Blas’s history is worth reading. Inspired by a eureka moment when sat on a Panama beach [of San Blas] watching a hut burning down, Australian Ukelele-playing singer Sam Thornton is now in his fourth incarnation of the band. The line-up is completed by Chris Smith (Elec Gtr/BVs), Chris Hammond (Drms/BVs) and Jamie McCluskey (Bass) who are described on the band’s website as ‘old family friends and their high school mates’. They now base themselves in a studio on the outskirts of Hertfordshire.
San Blas featured at Oxjam Camden in 2017 and have released an EP entitled Draw Win or Lose. They have also appeared on Watford’s Vibe 107 FM. They play the Horn (formerly the Horn of Plenty for us longer-in-the-tooth musos who played there on our travels) in St Albans on Wednesday followed by two dates in London. I recommend taking a tour of their website.
THE BOOKSHOP BAND – What We Know
The Bookshop Band take on the highly sensitive issue of historic abuse and deliver a powerfully matter-of-fact message in the process. The haunting quality of the music, minimal guitar picking one moment, dark stirring strings the next, plays a key part but it is the crystalline collaborative vocals of Poppy Pitt, Beth Porter and Ben Please that drive this fine song forward.
The lyrics are at times painfully honest and raw as, cast in the role of looking back on teenage years, they question whether they could have done more to defend a victim who was instead vilified and blamed for her own abuse. Their skill as story-tellers is so important here. It allows them to bring these terrible tales to life in a powerful but non-preachy way. Musically their sound is both outwardly brittle and yet entirely robust. The absence of overt sentiment actually adds emotional power to their armoury.
The concept of a band who actually do play lots of gigs in bookshops and at literary events is quite unique. By all accounts The Bookshop Band have become an important voice and force in the defence and promotion of the literary world. They are also a shining example of how word of mouth can genuinely work. Their first album was only available from a book shop, but when Tom Robinson got to hear them he featured the band on the BBC Music Introducing Mixtape. They have since appeared on other BBC channels and released four albums (with a further six in the pipeline).
TYNE – I’d Like That
Strong, distinct female vocal accompanied by deep piano chords dominate this epic ballad. Enigmatic synth and resonant drum hits drift in and out of the mix. The arrangement is beautifully balanced and provides the perfect platform for singer Grace Shelley to demonstrate all the contrasting elements of her fine voice. Deep and rich one moment, high and edgy the next, soft and reflective in between. The depth and maturity of her talent is all the more impressive with the realisation that she is just nineteen years old. The best is without doubt yet to come.
Tyne’s information page is slightly confusing in that she describes influences as ‘artists we also like’ but otherwise appears to be a solo act. In other words she is Tyne. Whatever the precise status of Tyne as a concept, Grace hails from Cambridge and namechecks Agnes Obei, Frank Ocean, Empress Of and Purity Ring as influences; a pretty good combination it has to be said. I might suggest perhaps London Grammar as another comparison that comes to mind. She lists her genre as Chill-Pop which, on the strength of I’d like that, seems reasonable.
Tyne also has management and a booking agent. She was performing live in Leeds this very weekend. You can catch her live at Electrowerkz in London on 10th April and a month later she plays The Great Escape Festival in Brighton. She has well over two thousand followers on her Facebook Artist page and over a thousand on Twitter. Tyne has also already been picked up by BBC Introducing in Cambridgeshire. All in all it is clear her career is moving firmly in the right direction.
So there you have it peeps! The snow has cleared and Spring is around the corner. By the time you read this the inbox has reopened and we will be busy sorting out the best, worst and in-between of Batch 275. There is so much great talent out there; most of it unsung. And that’s what makes being a moderator for Fresh on the Net such a joy and such a privilege. See you all on the next Listening Post. 🙂
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.