Artists at a glance
M W S
Wow what a week! Fresh On The Net is back from a fortnight’s break and there will be no extension to Halloween for us! So we knew there would be a high number of tracks in our inbox, but 272 smashes all previous records. Evidence that Fresh On The Net is more than a mere backstop! Not surprisingly then, we had 25 top tunes at the Listening Post this weekend, and having already ruled out a ‘no deal’ [or indeed any other form of] Frexit, we are back in action. Seriously though, it is a privilege to be reviewing the ten Fresh Faves you have chosen from the list. So here goes. (PS: If you get time to check out the [very] long list, there are plenty of gems there to unearth).
BIRTHMARKS – How Do You Rule Me
Birthmarks, not to be confused with the US band of the same name, are a trio from London who, according to Soundsphere Magazine, mix “… elements of electronica, trip-hop and rock with an introspective take on songwriting, experimentation and production”. They have an album entitled And Then The Rain Stopped scheduled for release in September, and How Do You Rule Me is the first single released from it.
How Do You Rule Me is brooding, deep register and driven by a buoyant bass and drum groove, while guitar snarls and snakes around it, and synths peek through the gaps in their translucent, almost opaque soundworld. It’s like looking at a motion picture through a dark screen. The vocal is controlled but intense and adds to the deliciously dark and daunting aura. The sounds thicken and threaten to lapse into discordant dystopia, but they never actually do and the final stretch is climatic and consummately satisfying. Original, distinct and highly recommended.
BLEDIG – And Breathe Reprise
Bledig are, if I have interpreted their history correctly, the brainchild of Richard Brincklow and their line-up has recently expanded. Their Soundcloud blurb says they “… cook up a stew of muscular prog hop/jazz grooves, dark piano tunes, dirty synths and soaring vocals”. They cite a number of influences including Portishead, Melanie De Basio and GoGO Penguin. They have supported some interesting acts live and their impressive story so far includes airplay on BBC Radio 2 and 6 Music including Tom Robinson, Mary Anne Hobbs and Jamie Cullum.
And Breathe Reprise is ambient and enigmatic. Deep dark, sometimes dissonant piano chords and distant haunting voices set up an ethereal atmosphere. The chords are goose-bumping at times and as layers are added piece by piece, the loose free-form percussion and swirling saxophone complete an appealing picture. I will be honest and say that, even at moderating stage, this was my first choice from all the amazing tracks we were faced with. So yeah, I guess you could say I am rather taken with it!
Hailing from Brighton, which is increasingly throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the UK in the battle to be Britain’s New Music Mecca, Bledig make beautiful atmospheric music. And Breathe Reprise is an outstanding example of their work.
CATHERINE RUDIE – Harbour Of Grudges
Catherine Rudie, originally from the North Coast of Scotland and a bagpipe player now resident in London, has been singled out as ‘one to watch’ by none other than BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction thanks to her appealingly individual Folk-influenced style and distinctive voice. Having had a lot to do with that programme over the past five years I can confirm their team know a thing or two about new music. I am also rather honoured that her Soundcloud blurb contains a quote from a previous Fresh Faves review written by one Neil March! Ha ha ha, who?
Harbour Of Grudges delivers an entire opening verse with unaccompanied solo voice before a quiet acoustic guitar joins in. It takes some self-confidence for any artist to lay her voice so bear on a recorded track. Eventually she adds a soulful upper register harmony. But the overall sound remains sparse and is all the more compelling for it. The final harmonised line of “Better to be on the open sea” fades out leaving a rolling single-note guitar figure to take the track down to zero. It is dynamic, distinct and really really impressive. One to watch? You bet.
FERGUS – Zelda Mae
London-based artist Fergus “… writes songs according to his mood, often choosing to embrace the melancholy, and through it finding a place of healing, beauty, and serenity”. He comes from a classical music background and toured professionally in his youth as a cellist in orchestras and as a member of a choir but, when this era came to a close, he found himself “… burnt out, without a sense of identity”. After a period of some turmoil, it was playing and writing with a guitar that restored his passion for making music.
Zelda Mae begins like a folk track, strummed guitar accompanying Fergus’s high register unusual and appealing voice but, as the arrangement fills out, it takes on a much more epic feel and the harmonies are powerful and affecting. Those choral and classical years were not wasted and have clearly fuelled both his sense of dynamic and his skills in arranging. The outcome is stirring, visceral and evocative pop. I picture vast highland scenery and a group of singers and players appearing on the horizon as they join Fergus on a mountain peak. Really very good.
FLO PERLIN – My Company
It is slightly frustrating that the Soundcloud link is for Flo Perlin’s label and contains no links to her own pages. However a quick Google search does the job and reveals she is London-based. She is also clearly a determinedly individual figure whose Facebook page claims she was tended to and fed pollen by a family of bumble bees before a storm carried her across a whole host of countries and continents! As scene setting goes, that is certainly not your everyday PR blurb!
My Company is in three time and has a classical edge with its piano accompaniment that is subsequently adorned by pizzicato and legato strings plus a laid back percussion track before ending on a simple pizzicato theme. Her vocals, by contrast, are more folk-influenced and her voice is distinct, yearning and hopeful, but tinged with ruefulness too. I am struck not only by her originality, but by the sense that she is unbothered about what else may be happening outside her unique emotional and musical world. That world also seems like a really good place to be right now, especially when she is producing work of such good quality.
HEIR – After Forever
Another fine band, quintet in this case, from the city of Leeds. Heir have a string of tour dates on their Facebook page, one of which is already sold out, so clearly they are gathering quite a following for their full-on pop vision. The tour extends to Europe, in particular the Netherlands, which is pretty impressive and leaves me wondering why I was not already aware of Heir.
Alter Forever kicks off in joyous triplet time that recalls the likes of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World with its picking guitar figure and synth chords. The vocal is upper tenor and upbeat, big harmonies, sweet falsetto unisons and a kitchen sink production and arrangement style that is epic and ambitious. It is out and out pop of an uplifting and sophisticated kind that is really good to hear among all the other stylistic elements that made up this week’s fantastic Listening Post. It is also tailor-made for radio.
M W S – Show Me Love
M w S are Fresh On The Net regulars who always have such positive things to say about fellow artists, so it is a joy to see them winning the approval of our well-informed Listening Post audience. The Italian male-female duo based in London have been subject of previous reviews by me both for Fresh On The Net and my own blog. It has been exciting to watch how their sound and style have developed over the past year or so.
They are consistent in two very specific ways. One is the consistently high standard of their ouput. The other is how they continue to surprise me with the shifts in direction from single to single. They have developed from quite a traditional soul-influenced style through contemporary R’n’B and now to a hybrid of these flavours but tinged with jazz, pop and other elements too.
What is not surprising is that Show Me Love finds Giulia in fine voice, while she and Francesco cook up a soulful mid-tempo summery slice of R’n’B with a lovely melody. This is accompanied by lightly funky and tastefully played guitar, synth notes that weave in and out of the mix and an enjoyably unusual beat. M w S have delivered the goods once again.
MUGEN – Fool Pt. 3
Leeds is a city that is buzzing with new music talent right now (see Heir) and ant-rock band MuGen are an exciting example. They describe their sound as “… like shoegaze if the shoes were walking home from a party at 6AM”. Hmmm, quite possibly! They are a quartet who have management in place and their Facebook page reveals plenty of live activity.
Fool Pt. 3 immediately grabs me with its syncopated guitar figure (kind of what us classically trained types might call isobars) that has echoes of Josef K (more their Postcard singles than their album just to clarify!) or Close Lobsters even while the semi-tone seventh-chord descent that appears at times could almost have been penned by Burt Bacharach. The deep [bass baritone range] vocal swoops and slurs up and down the scale in striking tone and the band’s playing is tight, punchy and energetic.
Everything about this track is so good – the quality of writing, the spacious arrangement, the bang-on playing and loud production. I bet they’re amazing live.
NEIL CAMPBELL – Tubular Rainbows (Radio Edit)
Scottish and Liverpool-based Neil Campbell is no stranger to Fresh On The Net readers thanks to his appearance in the Fresh Faves in December whereupon our own Tom Robinson remarked on his virtuoso guitar playing and distinguished career as a serial collaborator. Tom also referred to a list of influences that included Mike Oldfield, Robert Fripp, Max Richter, Philip Glass, Porcupine Tree and The Art Of Noise, all of which go a long way to explaining his semi-classical and inventive style of composing and playing. He has also received high praise from Classical Guitar magazine who called him “… an outstanding guitarist whose originality of thought makes him far more than just another gifted purveyor of finger acrobatics”.
Tubular Rainbows is expertly crafted, clever in the way it builds texturally and dynamically while Neil Campbell’s guitar playing is mouth-wateringly virtuosic and delivered with a lightness of touch that lends the music an extra degree of fluidity. There is a Mediterranean undercurrent too, especially in the descending minor chords and corresponding melodic theme. I hope this finds its way onto a playlist, perhaps via BBC Radio 3’s In Tune? It is certainly highly deserving of such exposure.
SISTER GHOST – Backwards
Sister Ghost is Shannon Delores O’Neill from Derry by way of Belfast and, as you may well be aware, there is an impressive infrastructure around alternative rock and indie music in Northern Ireland’s capital these days. Sister Ghost’s influences are diverse, taking in Seattle (Post) Punks, The Gits, Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, Kate Bush and Thin Lizzy. Yeah well, that sounds good to me. She has also been playing in bands from a young age and it shows in the confidence and accomplishment with which she combines engaging melodies with cool harmonies, intricate instrumental interplay and plenty of pure driving energy.
Backwards has all these qualities in spades. The tune gets inside my head and it is impossible not to be carried along on the tidal wave of energy that flows from the track. When I subsequently read that she has supported the likes of Pussy Riot, Shellac and Le Butcherettes, it further reinforces my belief that she is on the right track with some exciting destinations on the itinerary. Good times ahead.
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.