Artists at a glance
It is always a pleasure and privilege to review our Fresh Faves. So to have that opportunity in such a bumper week when we received 240 tracks at a mouth-wateringly high overall standard is especially exciting. I recently had the chance to be a speaker and panellist at a music industry event and had to take the chief booker for one of the world’s most famous festivals to task for suggesting there was a “shrinking pool of talent coming through in the UK.” These industry people should make time to check out Fresh On The Net. And from 240 tracks whittled down to just ten Fresh Faves with the help of our ever-discerning Listening Post audience, here is the evidence to support my argument.
EDWIN ORGAN – Gabriel
Edwin Organ is from the “West Side of Scotland” although he doesn’t specify how far West originally. These days he is in Glasgow (so still West anyway). This very track was picked out by BBC Introducing in Scotland presenter Vic Galloway as one of his tips and Marc Riley played it on his BBC 6 Music show on Thursday. Edwin Organ is keeping up the live dates too and his next advertised gig is at the iconic King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow which suggests things are already going pretty well for him. He has a manager who, by all accounts, is earning her cut.
Gabriel is built on a slightly funky keyboard riff based around two jazz-tinged chords and a lightly funky drum programme. The chorus is funkier and, as the track progresses, we are treated to an array of retro synth sounds playing little melodies against the vocal track which is husky and soul-tinted. For some reason I am hearing Bruno Mars in a mash-up with Scritti Politti (circa Cupid & Psyche)!
Edwin Organ’s own social media pages are very quiet on the issue of influences or even a description of what he sees his genre as being. Sophisticated Pop might be close. He is certainly a talented writer with a penchant for mixing modern pop values with classic synths and jazzy soulful chord patterns.
ELECTRIC SHORE – Hurricane
Electric Shore are a band I was aware of and have written about previously. Coming from Ratoth, County Meath just North of Dublin and gigging regularly, mainly in and around the Irish Capital, they have a pretty straightforward musical ambition which is to “make music that resonates with people.” If they achieve this, they say, then “… mission accomplished.”
I suspect that isn’t quite mission accomplished because with that honourable aim clearly comes a desire to make music that is both buzzing with creative energy and striving for high standards of writing and inventiveness. At least that is what the evidence suggests, listening to the way they use minimal drums, chugging bass and resonant guitar one moment and then pick up the dynamic and go full on at just the right moment. All the while the upper register male voice soars and swoops with joyful menace. The big chorus is instantly infectious and the whole piece is pacy and uplifting. That’s another fine track they’ve gotten me into!
ELOÏSE – Centrefold
London-based artist Eloïse grew up in rural Suffolk and was always drawn to the most tragic tales and characters in musical theatre. A writer and performer all through her school years, she developed a style taking inspiration from the likes of Lana Del Rey, Lady Gaga and David Bowie. She also concluded that a song could be like a movie with a story line and characters.
At 19, having already worked with producer Rory Simmonds (Bat for Lashes, Will Young etc.) and with an EP already released while still at school, she has been described by no less than the Telegraph as having “… an old head on young shoulders” and of “… having a penchant for writing catchy, electronic noir-pop.” That is certainly demonstrated by the clever satirical bite of Centrefold helped by her unusual voice and strong sense of dynamic. The rave reviews have continued to come.
“Would you prefer me a little more naked,” she sings before suggesting “I could be your centrefold.” She then continues with references to Pamela Anderson and wanting to be “… so fake unreal.” Meanwhile the music is suitably brooding and slow burning, a great vehicle for her accomplished vocal performance. All very impressive and a bright future ahead.
HEALTHY JUNKIES – Just A Fool
Healthy Junkies are a quartet from London fronted by the unique Parisian Nina Courson, a vocalist whose voice and persona combine to create a character who could own any stage. There are two videos on their Gigmit page and they have achieved more than a quarter of a million plays. Watch them and you will see why. I did and immediately I wanted to see them live. Nina’s partner-in-crime and fellow songwriter is guitarist Phil Honey-Jones and the pair have been running their own monthly gig in Camden for six years called Punk & Roll Rendez-Vous. The other two members are bass guitarist Dave Whitmore and Pumpy on Drums. They became a quartet in 2013 and have played on the same bill with a host of classic Punk era bands including The Rezillos, 999, Sham 69, The Vibrators, Spizz and even Theatre of Hate to name a few.
It would be easy (as well as lazy and inaccurate) to brand Healthy Junkies as a Punk revivalist band. Yes they play driving crashing chords, running bass and heavy drums. But the contrast between Nina Courson’s distinct and gutsy vocals and (presumably) Phil Honey-Jones’s lower-mixed responding backing vocal sounds fresh and invigorating. There are a lot of flavas in here too. Included among them are Garage Rock, Grunge, Goth and Riot Grrrl. It is also worth pointing out that this is an absolutely stonking track. They are maintaining an astonishing gig schedule. I already have their Amersham Arms gig in the diary.
LOW ISLAND – Search Box
Hailing from Oxford, a definite new music hotspot, Low Island are a collaborative group of DJs and musicians who wanted to capture some of the intimacy and audience connection with the songs from playing indie gigs alongside the total euphoria and exhiliration of a banging club. They also say they see “no contradiction in slipping between uplifting electronica and intimate ballads – or merging the two.” And indeed why should they? They have also established a reputation for teaming up with multimedia folks to put on cutting edge performance art.
Search Box is part spoken word over a slightly disarming riff with a synth playing in open fourths and fifths. The lyrics ask a series of questions about why negative things happen in everyday life while a very 80s-influenced chorus (wow, I’m going to have to mention Scritti Politti twice in one week’s reviews!) suggest putting all these questions in a box. Interestingy (deliberately? It’s hard to say) the general vibe is quite retro despite some very contemporary sound choices while the lyrics are very current. It works though and that is what matters.
LYVES – Faded
London-based Lyves is the performing name of former fellow Goldsmiths University alumnus Francesca Bergami who has worked in mental health care but carried a burning desire to realise her creative talents. Citing an intriguing set of influences that includes Moby, Enya, Tupac and US minimalist composer Philip Glass, I can see that she is drawn to artists who mix striking textures with translucent soundscapes. Ha! She might well say I am talking out of, erm, the wrong orifice! Well anyway, she received a positive response to her 2017 EP Like Water and now has both professional management and a booking agent in place so she is well positioned to enjoy some success (not to mention some great gigs). Her Facebook page adds yet more diverse and exotic influences including Bill Withers, Seal, Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys, Sade, Air and James Blake. Again she is drawn to striking, distinct artists.
So to the track. Faded is described on her Soundcloud page as R’n’B/Soul but it is a long way from what urban music enthusiasts would call R’n’B. Picking guitar, warm piano chords, light beat and synth nuances accompany a vocal that is in alto range in the more laid back verses but introduces upper layers and some sweet harmonies leading into a climatic chorus that sits in soprano range. I can hear the Enya influence behind this despite its Soul leanings.
Moreover the song provides Lyves with the opportunity to show multiple elements of her vocal talent. We are treated to a subtly satisfying cocktail of striking voice, sophisticated instrumental play and spacious production. There is an agreeable edge to Lyves’s delivery that is perfectly offset by the spacious arrangement and perky rhythms. Sweet and sour, light and bitter, well okay you get the picture (and the point)!
MARCH – Wear Me Down
March now becomes the second stunningly talented artist (Chlöe March being the other) to make our Fresh Faves who shares my surname but is no relation!! Her social media pages all describe her as an artist “from the UK” but the fact that she has received praise from Stephanie Nieuwenhuys of BBC Introducing in Solent suggests she is from, or based around the English South Coast. She is influenced by Indie, Folk and Experimental music. I might proffer that psychedelia is another strand. She also has a pretty impressive live itinerary which includes Glastonbury and several other festivals so things are looking up for March.
Wear Me Down has a powerful otherworldliness about it, her voice so clear and unusual plus mystical harmonies and warm sustained synth. The resulting sound world is evocative of high cliffs looking out over vast landscapes. The style is, in the broadest sense, Folk but then it has an electronic backdrop too. Moreover it is one of the most beautiful and original tracks I have heard in recent times. Having had a sneak look at her Soundcloud page I know there is more. March is picking up the plaudits and being offered these sorts of gigs for a reason. Top-notch.
SALAD – Under The Wrapping Paper
Anyone familar with Salad’s history will probably be quite surprised to see them submitting a track to Fresh On The Net. I would like to take it as another great endorsement of this new music platform and what it means to music artists. To recap quickly Salad were a significant band in the mid to late nineties, producing a Top 20 album (one of two albums released in that decade) and a string of singles including BBC 6 Music favourites Motorbike To Heaven and Drink The Elixir.
In 2016, two members (Marine van der Vlugt & Paul Kennedy) started performing a minimal version as Salad Undressed and, in 2018, they released an album with long-time collaborator Donald R Skinner. However there was also an album with a full band as Salad (which followed Salad’s return to live performing the previous year at Indie Daze) in which Skinner was the only member not from the original line-up. They now have a new album The Salad Way although, as it was clearly going to be crowdfunded through Pledge, I am not sure whether that organisation’s problems have skewed the release schedule.
In the meantime, Salad have sent in this track Under The Wrapping Paper and it is a refreshing reminder that they remain as committed as ever to finding fresh furrows to plough. Marine van der Vlugt’s vocal achieves a perfect contrast between tired conversational and quirkily ironic. I imagine her delivering the words with a genuine twinkle in her eye while the instrumental arrangement mostly focuses around driving drums and bass guitar and a two chord riff. But when a semi-industrial sounding synth springs into action, there’s suddenly a sinister edge and the brief but powerful B-section (to use a classical term!) is worth waiting for. This Salad is served fresh, full of flavour and absolutely straight from the fridge. No flies on them!
SQUINANCYWORT – My Kind Of Kind Of (ft Klangschwester)
Curiously Squinancywort has made our Fresh Faves with a track he put on Soundcloud in 2014! His Facebook link takes us to the personal account of Phil Barnett. It looks like Phil was quite active and had support and some very complimentary comments from BBC folk around the time this was recorded with Klangschwester who I presume is the female voice we hear from time to time.
The track is electronic and synth dominated with leftfield leanings, programmed beat maintaining the momentum other than where there are breakz. The harmonic language is enigmatic and there are a range of synth sounds and bleeps that take it off in different directions while the vocal appears periodically. Hopefully this belated recognition for the track can be an encouragement for some new material.
YUR MUM – Sweatshop
The hilariously named (if you recognise the term from playgroung banter!) Yur Mum describe themselves as “a multi-cultural rock band” and elsewhere as “dirty rock”! They have played a staggering range of international territories and it’s clear that they are another band with a busy live schedule. They go on to say that their music is “raw, loud and honest” and they call it “road rage rock”!
Sweatshop picked up some great comments from our readers both for its thunderous energy and its smart lyrical content. Bass Guitarist and singer Anelise Kunz Couto’s voice delivers a no-holds-barred performance in which she rises to a high register crescendo at the finish over riffing rock guitar and bass with heavy drums and plenty of toms. Influences are hard to pinpoint (indeed their Facebook page says their musical interests are “Yur Mum wants to rock”) but maybe a hint of Skunk Anansie jamming with Pussy Riot and Barb Wire Dolls. It’s a great track anyway, which is what you really want to know.
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.