Artists at a glance
JUAN MARIA SOLARE
OH, THE GUILT
SINEAD O BRIEN
These Fresh Faves were picked by our readers over the weekend – and reviewed by writer, composer, performer and Fresh On The Net moderator Louis Barabbas this week. You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.
AISLINN LOGAN – Wait on Me
A great pop song pays attention to every one of its component parts, nods politely to the prevailing stylistic trends and makes them its own, is influenced by its era but also able to transcend it — subject to its moment but not a slave to it. Aislinn Logan‘s Wait On Me is a mature yet energetic response to the age of “oversharing, undercaring, confrontation, anger flaring” with the strength to not only express a critique but also offer up some welcome optimism: “Give it time to turn, never mind, never mind the churn”. Production and arrangement-wise it’s a contemporary-futuristic masterclass — with its unceasing drive, the onward lean, never distracted, never wavering, always looking forward, just like the song’s chorus. Everything is in its own space, with that space expanding as the song develops, creating its own bespoke sonic landscape and then completely filling it, yet somehow never becoming cramped. Excellent.
EMPATHY TEST – Incubation Song
A cyborg of a tune, organic elements fused sadly into machinery, Empathy Test’s Incubation Song is steeped in fashionable 80s synthery, comforting in its gloomy familiarity, like a womb with mood-lighting. The slightly sinister opening strains give way to a vocal performance that’s racked with vulnerability, like a lonely automaton leaving its inner cogs exposed to the coastal breeze — no doubt there’s an invigorating freshness to that bracing sting but one that’s accompanied by the bald promise of subsequent rust. Despite their airy delivery the lyrics are full of murky smothering conceits: “suffocate me… choke me… envelope me… swallow me… consume me…” but tempered with rebirth and renewal “rejuvenate me… rebuild me… invigorate me…” adding to that all-pervasive sense of light and shade. In my opinion it’s about a minute too long but when performed live I imagine that leaves time for a certain forgivable euphoria to take hold.
FROG – Something To Hide
I should probably preface this review by saying Frog are one of my favourite bands. Indeed their Judy Garland single was my standout song by any musician (young, old, emerging or established) of 2015. So objectivity has absolutely no place here.
What a clumsy little masterpiece this is, clunking along nimbly like some cartoon hobo with its foot in a paint tin and a saucepan over its eyes, stumbling from one giddy instance to another. Up and up it goes, it’s middle section like a climactic outro capped in a disorientating dropout that affords us a moment to assess the damage before we’re hurled back into the spinning melee. I love the wooziness, the rhapsodic wrongness of this track, jubilantly expressing the kaleidoscope of inarticulate feelings born from a bad decision, an important mistake perhaps not entirely regretted.
Love. Love. LOVE.
GRANDBABY – Donkey O.T
I first became aware of Grandbaby’s Jason Baldock through his expertly authentic 60s-tinged pop project Rope Store. A band I hopelessly adore and don’t care who knows it. Here we find his flare for catchy and characterful hooks remains wonderfully undimmed, his engineer’s eye for how such things are constructed never threatening to diminish the essential naivety of their sensory impact. Donkey OT feels like a guilty pleasure but one I’ll happy admit to. Its gorgeous gurgling synth splashes and bouncy stabs are joyful yet knowing, the snowballing vocal messiness at odds with an otherwise pristine arrangement being a particularly bold and brilliant decision, a perfect discrepancy that lends the song a human integrity helping to steer this funky exercise away from pastiche and into something more important, yet still fun.
JAZZ MORLEY – Disconnected
Sometimes the best thing you can do with a strong emotion is give it room to speak for itself. All too often producers will encounter a song about loss or regret and immediately hurl a string section at it, like spray-painting the word SAD on a wingless bird. Here Jazz Morely’s vocals are left almost alone for the first verse, the sparse piano acting as a modest gauze. Then, once we have a true sense of the emotional scenery, the brass accompaniment creeps in like a gradual sunrise before building the scene into a bright yet cold day. The song’s eventual crescendo feels natural rather than manipulative and by the end we have all felt something. Written just before her brother went to fight in Afghanistan the song resists any temptation to draw on the readymade go-to poignancy of our shared attitudes to the tragedy of war, instead focusing entirely on the personal distress of growing apart from a loved one, creating a song that’s instantly relatable with or without the wider context.
JUAN MARIA SOLARE – Ausente
Described as “somewhere between classical music and new tango” the artist’s phrasing here is telling: “somewhere” rather than “something”. For in Juan Maria Solare’s Ausente (absent) we are certainly transported. Each angular phrase jutting up like stone columns or distended stalactites in a limey cave. The trickling thrust of its furtive intent feels somehow elemental yet focused through an urban noir prism, drops of heavy water in varying temperatures, some icicles and some steam, shards of smoky light poking around slow moving fan blades and between the rusty teeth of ancient window grills, monstrous warped shadows cast up from humble orphaned minutiae. Music as beautiful and unsettling as it is hard to dance to.
MELANIE PEGGE – Fell Climber
Melanie Pegge’s elegantly crafted Fell Climber feels like the musical equivalent of a watercolour study, an instance of brightness and inspiration, a hopeful grab at something transient yet eternal, less accurate than a photograph but more truthful. The dual voices give the listener a sense that one embodies the private reflections we make to ourselves in secluded places when no one is around and our guard is down. The exquisite plucked classical guitar bolstered by a quietly insistent scraping strum in the distance that suggests sunlight playing on a waterfall in our peripheral vision. A gorgeous moment of a song that is, like so many moments, over too soon.
OH, THE GUILT – Darkest Days
When this popped up on the submissions list I took one look and thought “Almost eight minutes? You’ve got to be joking.” But this ended up being one of my personal picks and I’m glad it made it to the faves. Diminishing attention spans? Hardly. This magnificent slow-burning church fire of a song from Oh, The Guilt heaps rewards aplenty on the patient listener, each verse bringing us closer to the canopy of a dark dense rainforest until, at last, we find the fresh air and the sunshine. There is one curious intermission that feels like the track might not be able to hold its nerve, but then we’re back in and everything’s moving, full of glorious distortion and fuzz and ever more insistent drums. More and more convinced of itself as it plays on, the whole song operates as a beautiful act of cathartic reassurance both lyrically and musically, taking us from looming shadows into dazzling light.
POLAR STATES – Lana
Through long observation my dog has developed a keen grasp of the significance of mobile phones without any idea of what they do or why anyone would want to interact with one. That is how I am with certain kinds of music. It’s someone else’s treasure. Like my dog all I can do is heave a great sigh and wait for the moment of incomprehension to pass, resigning myself to a few minutes spent alone while the engrossed person shuts me out of their world. I see that people love it, I am familiar with the forms and formulas, but I’m just the wrong species of listener. I don’t think it’s bad, only that stories about late nights and drunken scrapes leave me emotionally cold – indeed colder and colder the further I stray from my adolescence (I’m deep into the tundra now). But that’s not a helpful review so how’s this for something the band can quote in an EPK:
Polar States present a jagged muscular number, modern yet timeless in its anthemic retelling of squalid youth that exhibits an unconventional tenderness belying its pop credentials. I am particularly fond of the beefy grumbly bass underpinning it all, like the stone-faced designated driver saving a bunch of characterful teens from something grim at the end of one of those legendary parties you feel proud not to remember a single moment of.
SINEAD O BRIEN – A List Of Normal Sins
A formidable and startling collaboration between Irish born London poet Sinead O Brien and ex-Maccabbee Will White, A List Of Normal Sins feels like the kind of groggy stream of consciousness tirade one hears from someone protesting their manhandling inside an ambulance, swatting away the helpful arms trying to administer care as their charge, possessed by some nameless urge, fulminates on some incomprehensible yet intimate philosophy — inspired and articulate, but locked in this terrible instance quite quite wrong. I love it. The crooked jouncy lopsided instrumentation gives the quality of a fish-eye lens to O Brien’s words, lurching in and out of focus while the speaker holds forth. I think there is evidence of true brilliance here.
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.