Artists at a glance
THE HOWL & THE HUM
Our inbox is open until Thursday, 19th December for the final Listening Post of the year this coming weekend. The inbox will then remain closed until Monday, 13th January 2020.
Welcome to one Exit Poll that never brings bad news. And this time it arrives in the final week before a soft and temporary Xmas Frexit (or Freshxit perhaps). So with the votes all counted, the returning officer has the results and it looks like new music has been the winner. No ‘oven ready’ schlopp-pop here, folks. Just the strong and [deliciously un]stable sounds of exciting, energetic new music artists.
AIRPORT 85 – Tailspin
Airport 85 is the brainchild of London musician and film-maker Nat Saunders whose Souncloud blurb explains that he writes about “planes, ghosts, nuclear war, love and space”. Hmmmm, not the typical five-a-day but then there is nothing typical about his music either. A tasty blend of driving Alt Rock, Synth Pop and a smattering of Shoegaze, Tailspin reminds me simultaneously of Hot Chip, Metronomy and early OMD in a jam with Vessels and Swervedriver perhaps!
His music has previously been picked up by Tom Robinson who said of a previous track “The dense, vivid, poetic flow of lyrics washes over you, as the chords twist and modulate along paths less travelled – so that you can never quite guess what’s going to happen next”. Certainly Nat Saunders has conjured up another magical melodious mash-up of influences resulting in an energetic, enthralling, entertaining track.
BEETHUM – Blood Red Moon Bink Bonk
Bristol band Beethum have been mixing in some cool company with contributions from This Is The Kit’s Neil Smith and Portishead producer Adrian Utley. The quartet say they are “… drawn to textures and sounds from a wide palette of sources. Acoustic and electronic instruments sit side-by-side, sometimes easily and sometimes discordantly, to create a sound that can be both beautiful and challenging”. Meanwhile they have been making music in their basement studio for some time, some of which has come through to Fresh On The Net previously of course.
Blood Red Moon Bink Bonk features an enigmatic upper register vocal juxtaposed against trippy ethereal and laid back music that blends organic sounds with electronic ones. Its aura reminds me bizarrely of Gorillaz in a mash-up with Air and Portishead (well they have been working with Adrian Utley!) although the vocals are almost in Flaming Lips territory. Not that it really sounds like any of those bands individually. It is beautifully spaced out and every element of their unusual sound is eminently appealing.
CAREERIST – Doors
It seems like I have spent a lot of time lately commenting on how much effort Belfast’s Alternative Rock and Indie bands put into making good tracks even better. Careerist are another band in that vein. Not only are they busy playing all over [Northern and the Republic of] Ireland. The same work ethic spills over into their music which is classic Post-Punk-Pop one moment (recalling a string of great bands from The Only Ones to Dinosaur Jnr to the Libertines) and then dropping down in dynamic, switching to half time and demonstrating a level of detail and nuance that takes their music to another level.
Doors has all these elements plus some wonderfully off-the-wall lead guitar that nods to some of Robert Fripp’s contributions on classic Bowie albums. The band’s interlocking, intricate interplay results in a pocket powerhouse of pop joy. If Belfast is the new Seattle, then Careerist can be its Mudhoney (to name just one example).
ECHO MACHINE – Headlights
From Dundee, birthplace of Average White Band, Danny Wilson, Snow Patrol and The Associates, Echo Machine say they play “loud pop music, with generous helpings of electronics, eye-liner and fuzz”. Gary, Mike, Ben and Lewis have been gigging around Scotland, releasing singles and have a debut album ready to drop in 2020.
Headlights is heroic, epic pop that could be The 1975 in a jam with Simple Minds. Everything about their sound is big. Giant resonant guitars, deep strong bass, powerhouse drums and a big big male voice adorned with effects, all carrying off an irresistible melody, great guitar figures, killer hook and spacious production. It’s a track that grabbed me on first listen and its uplifting atmosphere is a place I want to stay awhile in; a much-needed antidote to events elsewhere over recent days. Ooh, what could I be referring to?!
EDEN IRIS – Dangerous Mind
Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand and based in Los Angeles, Eden Iris is an Indie-Folk artist who has come to my attention previously for her intriguing blend of influences with a mystical, slightly Eastern edge as demonstrated on this track. A glance at her stated influences makes me want to listen to her music when I see names like Kate Bush, John Martyn, Tori Amos, Stevie Nicks, Bon Iver and a load of others.
Dangerous Mind is built around a riff that could almost be from a Bhangra track. It has a sparseness that leaves plenty of space for Eden Iris’s expressive, distinct voice to stretch out. She isn’t listed as an influence but there is nevertheless an undercurrent of Joan Armatrading about the song itself. Original and imaginative, further evidence of why she is an artist to keep a close watch on.
MARRIUS – Easy Fix
London singer-songwriter Marrius has had an interesting recent past, supporting Alt-J, playing the Nelson Mandela Festival and receiving support from BBC Introducing and Amazing Radio. Back with a new EP, he mixes “… modern electronics with a soulful pop edge” and sings with a bluesy grit in his voice.
Easy Fix is in triplet time, his voice split by octaves over a buzzy synth bass, sparse synth-electronic backdrop and echoing drum programme. His falsetto is sweet and there is an inventiveness about how the different elements of his voice and other sounds are deployed, often with drop-outs and sudden switches in texture and dynamic. Hints of Prince, Thundercat, Scissor Sisters, Young Fathers and even Pharrell Williams appear and disappear. But these are just strands, not out and out influences. It’s a very individual piece and impressive with it.
PHOEBE COCO – Look What The Cat Dragged In
London-based Phoebe Coco is Phoebe Wright-Spinks and peforms with a band that involves her twin sisters (i.e sisters who are twins Grace and Dorothy) plus drummer Thomas Broda. She also records for Sharp Attack Records and the Wright-Spinks sisters come from serious musical pedigree, their dad having played with David Bowie, and her mum having been in the cult musical Hair and appeared in Diana Ross videos. All in all then, not so surprising that they have followed a similar path.
Look What The Cat Dragged In, my song title of the week for sure, pits Phoebe Coco’s very distinct voice against resonant and busy piano chords and low-mixed drum track. Her singing style has a hint of the theatre stage about it and she certainly has the registral and dynamic range to carry that off. The vibe is retro but sparse despite the heavy use of reverb and soft backing vocals playing off against and around the lead. Shades of Barbara Dickson, also of Beverley Craven but with a more modern lo-fi mastering style and general approach.
SANJA CIN – Change In Chunks
Another artist with no links on her Soundcloud page, Sanja Cin is a guitar-playing singer-songwriter whose videos reveal a confident solo performer. It looks like she is UK-based with connections to Austria. Her events page shows her most recent listed gig as being in Manchester in May but I have the feeling she has been playing more frequently than that suggests.
Sanja Cin’s songs place her confident, dexterous voice against picking light-fingered guitar play and on Change In Chunks, that process is interspersed with sudden changes; a sumptious chord change here, an unforeseen modulation there. These features bring a subtle jazz-tinged vibe and demonstrate a talent for those little touches that lift a song up a level. It is organic, transparent and cleverly crafted.
THE ASSIST – I Don’t Care
Walsall band The Assist have been called “the next big thing from Birmingham”. So maybe they are from Birmingham and not Walsall. Well anyway they are from the West Midlands and they make “Singalong anthems and infectious guitar riffs”.
I Don’t Care starts with an intriguingly unusual guitar and bass duelling riff before a more conventionally classic 3-chord pattern kicks in and the style is somewhere between The Stooges and Sleaford Mods. The changes are what makes this track. A sudden switch to a new pattern and a great tune, then back to the main riff but with the addition of vocal harmonies. It may sound like an exuberant good-time Post-Punk swinger but a lot of thought has gone into making this something special and the slowed down ending is the icing on a tasty cake.
THE HOWL & THE HUM – The Only Boy Racer Left On The Island
Not only are The Howl & The Hum no strangers to our Fresh Faves but this is the second time I have reviewed them there. The York band have also seen their reputation grow, not only receving glowing reviews from Tom Robinson and Clash magazine but touring Scotland, appearing at Latitude, The Great Escape, Live at Leeds and more, winning fans across the UK. It really feels like 2020 can be a beakthough year for them. If so, it will be well deserved.
The Only Boy Racer Left On The Island tells a story of the song’s subject having watched in awe how the original boy racers turned heads and gained legend status and dreamed of one day being like them with all the requisite disappointment that inevitably followed as the culture of the area changed. The song itself is a slow burner that is characteristically anthemic. The Howl & The Hum are masters of the big gesture and they do it without lapsing into pomposity. It is the natural soundtrack to several thousand people waving their phones and singing along as the band’s big sound fills the night air. Maybe on the big stage at Glastonbury and sooner rather than later.
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.