Artists at a glance
You can trace the DIY and independent spirit that underpins Fresh On The Net back to those early post-punk years when it felt like suddenly anything was possible. One of the earliest pioneering groups who took and ran with that concept, creating new ideas and energy that have gone on to infuse the music of generations of younger artists was the Gang of Four. This week we lost their founder and creative powerhouse Andy Gill aged just 64. His death follows the band’s most productive and successful year in decades. So I would like to dedicate my Fresh Faves reviews to his memory and moreover to his legacy which we will continue to see and hear in the wonderful music that comes into the Fresh on the Net in-box week in, week out. RIP Andy. Legend.
BITMAP – Everything Lost Will Be Found
One of the many things I love about our discerning Listening Post audience is their open-minded attitude to a range of genres. So it is great to see the accomplished artist and producer Luke Barwell (aka Bitmap) back in the Fresh Faves with this thoughtful piece. Luke hails from East Riding (Yorkshire) and was a member of Salako. These days he works alone as Bitmap and has released two albums which can be found on his Soundcloud page. His Bitmap releases have also been critically well-received, including support from BBC 6 Music in recent years.
Everything Lost Will Be Found forms a virtually perfect arc, beginning as it ends with quiet ambient sound and spoken word samples. In between it gradually increases in dynamic from pleasant electronica into harder, more hypnotic groove at the high point of its arc. After that it deconstructs in something akin to a sonic mirror image of its opening. Refreshingly unaffected by what anyone else is necessarily doing, we must hope that its optimistic title might prove to be an accurate prediction.
CAOILFHIONN ROSE – Shadow Of Your Smile
The next three tracks all have notable commonalities. Manchester’s Caoilfhionn Rose is no stranger to our Fresh Faves. Caoilfhionn (pronounced Keelin) came to prominence when she collaborated with Manchester legend Vini Reilly including appearances on the Durutti Column album Chronicle LX:XL back in 2011. She cites Reilly as an influence within a long list of others including The Mummers, Rachel Sermanni, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Joseph Halloran and Broadcast.
Shadow Of Your Smile has a mystical folky undercurrent but also drives along in mid-tempo groove with shades of Alt Pop and Americana, all these elements circulating around her soft but powerful vocal which, despite its enigmatic aura, enjoys a commanding presence at the centre of her music. Shadow Of Your Smile has a melody that is unusual enough to hold my interest but is singable too. An engaging hybrid of influences and ideas.
CATHY JAIN – Jigsaw Pieces
Cathy Jain may be young but she’s already had an interesting life, growing up in both Australia and China before settling, for now at least, in Nantwich in Cheshire. Among her talents is playing the guzheng, a type of Chinese harp, and she has twice received the Cheshire East Young Musician of the Year award. She also plays guitar and keyboard and has been building a reputation as a singer-songwriter.
Jigsaw Pieces has a jaunty folky acoustic pop sensibility. Her soprano-range vocal has a slightly melancholy tone that reminds me a little of Natalie Imbruglia in a mash-up with KT Tunstall and Cate Le Bon. The open fifths bass lends it a slightly Country-ish undercurrent. In essence the song is upbeat organic pop. It has an infectious energy that definitely appeals.
CORTNEY DIXON – Parliament Of Owls
Cortney Dixon completes a trilogy of Fresh Faves tracks by artists with similarities about their upper-range vocals, soft tones and penchants for organic acoustic instrumentation. Cortney hails from South Shields in the North East and appears to have wasted little time in mixing with some esteemed company. She has been produced by Jim Lowe (The Stereophonics/The Charlatans), has had proactive support from CD Baby, and already has a full backing band with whom she has been chalking up the live performances including the Reeperbanh Festival in Hamburg.
Her Facebook page lists some intriguing musical interests including Punk and Ska bands as well as classic pop a la Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, etc. Also more contemporary artists like St Vincent and Christine & The Queens. Yet, to be honest, there is little evidence of any of these influences in Parliament of Owls. The melody has strains of familiar songs including Wonderful Tonight, Waterloo Sunset and one or two others I am struggling to identify. But there are also hints of Sharon Van Etten in a jam with Billie Eilish. Again it is organic pop with a folky undercurrent, executed with individual flair.
FLO – Between The Lines
Flo is of French-Chinese lineage; born in London. Initially Between The Lines kicks off like it is going to be a fourth consecutive track in similar organic Folk-Pop vein with its picking guitar and her pure soprano range tones, but it then takes on a slightly edgier quality and we are treated to the grainier, tougher tones in her voice. There is a particularly striking key change that lifts the song up a level as it drives forward into the main hook. A few names come fleetingly to mind including Courtney Barnett, Lana Del Rey and Regina Spektor.
Flo seems to have played a few gigs at London venues recently and the impression is that she works with guitarist and producer Ricardo Pecchi. Her music is defined as Cinematic Indie-Folk which is not a bad shout on the evidence here. There is certainly an appealing mix of earthy singer-songwriter and darker Alt Rocker here. A strong track coupled with a great performance.
GOAN DOGS – Anxiety
I can’t pretend to have any knowledge of what would mark actual Goan dogs out from the rest of the canine world but the band Goan Dogs hail from the English West Country. Bristol to be precise. They are a quintet in which, according to their blurb, everyone contributes vocally. The instrumental make-up includes Trumpet and Casiotone in amongst an otherwise guitar-dominated line-up. After a brief hiatus, they seem to be pretty busy with gigs this month in three different parts of the country. They have also been together for an impressive eight years during which time, they say, they have been self-releasing and playing to packed crowds.
Anxiety is an intriguing track. It has a buoyant rhythmic foundation and periodically introduces full-on vocal harmonies that sway and swoon with both menace and musicality. There is a vaguely Eastern infusion in the chord play and the way they go from a major third to a minor second [in relation to the tonic]. Is this Alt Rock with a Goan tinge? Influences are hard to pinpoint, but it reminds me in places of Bombay Bicycle Club (all these Eastern references!), Tame Impala, possibly even a little of Arcade Fire. There’s even something Beatlesesque about them. Well anyway it’s energetic, slightly intense and delightfully distinct.
JAMES DEY – Neon Sign
As Storm Ciara continues to huff and puff in a concerted attempt to blow my house down, the calm strains of Neon Sign have an almost eerie quality! It brings a different meaning to the term ‘being blown away’ I guess! The guitar intro is sparse in a mild mood with a melody based mainly on the pentatonic scale (that Eastern thingy again!). When the vocal joins in, it doubles the guitar pretty much the whole time as the lightest of light beats slots in beneath the guitar, the texture translucent and the style still laid back.
James Dey lists a catalogue of influences so diverse it makes for fascinating reading. It even includes the Flying Burrito Brothers (who I may have cited in some former Fresh Faves review, but never expected to see a current artist actually namecheck!). Neon Sign is not Country Rock however, folks! In fact, from the extensive list provided, possibly Aldous Harding, Nick Drake and This Is The Kit get the closest. This is certainly a laidback piece in which man and guitar make a good fist at becoming one. Cleverly constructed. Simple but sophisticated.
PAUL LAPPIN – After The Rain
There’s an almost scary synergy going on with today’s tracks. A trio of similarly influenced female singer-songwriters, a pair of pensive-looking gentlemen with beards playing guitars, two acts citing The Charlatans and two artists from Bristol so far. Paul Lappin is in the second, third and fourth of these categories. His journey is described as ‘unconventional’. This is explained in how he quit his job in Bristol as a graphic designer and moved to a small farmhouse in France. Another synergy. Our second French reference! I don’t believe in fate, astrology or any superstition but these continuous coincidences are messing with my head. Note to self: take a break from watching episodes of Black Mirror!
His blurb goes on to inform us that he is an artist (i.e. of the painting variety) whose work can be viewed on the walls of buildings in Swindon. His music is described as being reminiscent of the early nineties baggy [Madchester] indie-dance scene with its ‘jangly guitars’ and ‘tambourines’. Interesting because I associate jangly guitars with the eighties (Postcard Records, C86 etc.) and tambourines with the sixties, but let’s not split hairs. The song After The Rain is actually quite sixties-influenced with Byrds-esque guitars, backing vocal ‘Ah’s and a heartwarming tremolo organ. There are shades of The Who in a jam with The Stone Roses. Layers of pretty guitar parts, overlapping harmonies and a vocal melody that is mostly major key and uplifting but tinged with an air of ruefulness. All very nicely done.
SEAZOO – The Pleasure
Aarrrrghhh! Those synergies! Repeat mentions for Courtney Barnett and Cate Le Bon (by Seazoo, not me!); actual eighties-style guitar jangle and another French reference, Serge Gainsbourg this time! Ha ha ha, anyway Seazoo are a quintet from North Wales whose live itinerary reveals they are playing literally all over the UK which is mightily impressive. They are also recording at Big Jelly Studios with Mike Collins (Girl Ray/Pip Blom). They are represented by Supercat PR and are already able to quote from a review in NME. With an emerging CV of this quality, don’t be surprised to see them making a name for themselves in 2020.
The Pleasure is uptempo jangly Alt Pop with male vocal and, as it moves from verse to chorus, it introduces a series of the most spine-tingling guitar chords which remind me of early Josef K. This is imaginative inventive Indie-Psych-Pop that lifts the spirits. They cite a number of influences including classic North Welsh acts like Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, but also the aforementioned Gainsbourg and ‘60s Spaced Sounds’. They have certainly hit the spot with this track anyway.
VALERAS – Hear Me Out!
According to their social media Valeras are a quintet, although there are only four of them in the pics. Two girls, two boys to be precise and they are so photogenic, you could be forgiven for expecting them to be whatever the unisex equivalent of a boy or girl band is called! A few bars into Hear Me Out and that myth is demolished as we discover they play highly-charged Punk-Pop with hard-edged female vocal.
Valeras hail from Reading and have management in place. They are currently on tour and playing a packed programme of dates around the UK. I imagine they are great live too. With shades of Savages, Skunk Anansie, Idles and others, Hear Me Out simmers, seethes and lets off plenty of steam. Punky and powerful with a hook to hang your hopes on!
Well that’s it folks. Time to shelter from the weather as it downgrades from Storm Ciara to Breeze Berni with some exciting new music. Stay safe all. Till next time. x
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.