Artists at a glance
TOM MOUSE SMITH
AMITY PAX – Breaking Machines
I have had my eye on Belfast duo Amity Pax for some time now and am delighted that they finally made the Fresh Faves on a week when I’m reviewing. They have a very distinctive sound, with acoustic guitars, ukes and percussion accompanying quirky tales delivered with a healthy dose of caustic wit.
Breaking Machines is a jaunty return-to-nature anthem destined to become a fixture on many a summer playlist, the perfect soundtrack to leave behind the rat race and head off to the sunny outdoors. There’s a catchy instrumental refrain picking up with bongos and tambourines, just the right level of kooky imagery (lying in an open graveyard to absorb the timeless voices of ancestors) and the repeated call to start “smashing up the factory”.
If anything, I wish this were longer (it weighs in at a slim 2:16), but it plays well on loop so that’s OK. I’d love to hear it opening up a concept album to see where their return to nature takes them, but whatever Amity Pax have in store following this new single I look forward to hearing it.
BIG BEARD – Steve Buscemi
Scottish eccentric Big Beard was one of the original members (alongside Ray “Little Beard” McCartney) of the Kazoo Funk Orchestra, apparently now “on my own in a cupboard making music using my beard to mop up my tears of loneliness”. Poor chap.
Steve Buscemi is a pulp culture celebration in the vein of Spizzenergi and Devo. The titular actor is joined by a smörgåsbord of references, many of which happen to rhyme with “Buscemi” (French Martini, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini). FOTN’s Tobi told us “You had me at ‘Steve Buscemi, Harry Houdini, Bubblegum Pink Lamborghini’”, going on to note that “any song that rhymes “Fugazi” with “Karate” is alright in my book”.
All this cultural riffing takes place over a tasty electro-punk guitar riff, rumbling drums and whirling space sweeps. These are things I like to do too.
CROOKED SHADOWS – Crooked Shadow
Alternative Hip-Hop duo Crooked Shadows have an engaging mystique, with little biographical information forthcoming besides their hailing from London and Dorset. Their themes are similarly enigmatic – “power comes from knowledge and knowledge is a process”, as they put it. Even their name is cryptic – is this a reference to the Douglas Fairbanks-produced 1950s mystery thriller? A little googling revealed articles linking the phrase to a Chinese parable.
So yeah, deep stuff; this is sophisticated, mind food rap for close listening. The sound and flow is reminiscent of De La Soul and Acid Jazz-era fare like Galliano and MC Solar, with 1960s and 70s soundtrack samples merging with cheeky syncopations in the beat programming. Our Tobi found it “audaciously groovy”.
This track is taken from their debut EP “Volume 1” and is well worth hearing in the context of the full record.
LEGPUPPY – Secret Friend (Feat. Josefin Öhrn)
A collaboration between South London multi-media art rockers Legpuppy and Swedish songstress Josefin Öhrn, whose 2016 album they described as “like discovering The Velvet Underground and Nico for the very first time… a source of inspiration”.
Secret Friend unfolds over a hypnotic one-chord electro-rock groove, with the monotonic main vocal contrasting with Öhrn’s wispy French operatics. Reversed guitars, space synth flops & sweeps and subtle riffs swim in and out of the mix creating a fluid, abstract experience which reveals new colours and interpretations with every listen.
LUKE DE-SCISCIO – Told You
“There’s a deity and a chimpanzee waging a war in me”, shares Bath’s Luke De-Sciscio over sweetly haunting acoustic guitar fingerpicking. There is a clear influence/homage to early Leonard Cohen in the first half of the song, before the low monotone style rises up an octave at 2:29 and he sets about claiming the style all for himself.
The lyrics are a poetic stream of consciousness – aside from the aforementioned ape/god conflict, there is candid self-admonishment (“it’s not ‘when will he learn?’ but ‘when will he act on it?’”) and serious illness references that hint at mortality (is the title a reference to Spike Milligan’s famous epitaph?) or mere hypochondria.
In March Luke De-Sciscio is heading across the Atlantic for a tour of venues in New York City and South by Southwest in Texas, returning to these shores in April for a performance at London’s SET art space and a home tie at the Chapel Arts Centre in Bath.
MARSICANS – Can I Stay Here Forever (pt. II)
Also making their way to Texas for SXSW are Leeds quartet Marsicans, who are currently preparing to release their first album on Killing Moon following a string of EPs and singles going back to 2014, during which time they cut their teeth with an intense touring schedule and a Maida Vale session broadcast on Radio 1.
Can I Stay Here Forever (pt. II) is a mature piece of alt-rock made for arena-level performance. Apparently part I was lost in development (“part II is a tip of the hat to its predecessor”, explained singer James Newbigging), what we’re left with is a thunderous bass and drum groove with the breathing space required to be huge, cascading guitar licks and a confident, plaintive vocal calling for an end to national inertia.
TOM MOUSE SMITH – Undecided
The prodigious Tom Mouse Smith has for some time been amassing a CV that belies his tender years (he’s currently preparing to take his GCSEs). The teenager has made multiple appearances in our Fresh Faves, gained an impressive word-of-mouth reputation and supported a wide assortment of big names including FOTN proprietor Tom Robinson, who found him a “seriously impressive performer”.
Undecided is a live recorded solo acoustic number (just guitar and vocals) which demonstrates the informed confidence with which he’s been finding his voice while promising still greater things to come. The guitar on this track is beautiful – I could listen to it just as an instrumental – and it supports a well written, plaintive ballad expressively delivered with a distinctive growl and touches of Billy Bragg-esque fragility.
In the comments for this week’s Listening Post, Faves and Mixtape alumnus Me G called him an “amazing talent (who) wears his heart on the outside”. FOTN mod Chris Ingram noted that “Tom Mouse Smith is going from strength to strength”. You can say that again.
TV FACE – O Death Is Coming
Lancaster punk trio and Faves veterans (the band called) TV Face are currently in the process of releasing a track a month as a pay-what-you-feel download, to be compiled into physical EPs every four months with self produced merch. This episodic approach to release scheduling is becoming much favoured by indie musicians as an alternative to the traditional label-dictated album cycle, (the band called) TV Face carry it out with a distinctive artwork aesthetic (designed by singer/guitarist sTeVe) and, of course, great music.
O Death Is Coming is February’s offering (out on the 28th). It opens with a particularly unique hook sound – I’m hearing prepared piano, but can’t be sure. Whatever it is, it’s backed up by tight bass and drums and huge reverb laden guitar textures, unfolding a grindhouse tale of fear and paranoia. The whole production reminds me of the gothic cabaret stylings of Last Days of Jesus, with a slice of Julian Cope.
VEDA – What A Shame
“I don’t want to know where your laundry goes”, complains Birmingham’s self-proclaimed “Lo-fi Prince of Darkness” Dominic Antonio Sepúlveda, who has been busily touring his particular brand of goth rock theatricality around the UK, Europe and corners of cyberspace for a few years now.
What A Shame by VEDA is a raunchy slice of limiter-bashing rock with trashy drums, an effective spoken word verse/sung chorus combo and lashings of nastily tasty guitar layers hooking, slicing and sweeping with understated skill, right up to the abrupt end at 3:15.
VICE BEATS – Reminisce
Vice Beats is headed by Bristol producer James “Vice” Kennaby, who has co-ordinated and conducted workshops and events across the UK as the man behind the Arts Council-funded Basement Sessions and Street Soul Productions.
Reminisce is taken from “Dilla – A Timeless Tribute”, paying worthy homage to legendary hip-hop producer James Dewitt Yancey. Vice creates a lush collage of jazz and soul textures with rapper-poet Brotherman providing the lyrical flow on top and sung vocals from Greg Blackman. The samples are beautifully and tastefully mixed with effective use of delay on the drum hits constantly swirling in and out of time and space. The overall sound is a sonic adventure from a team passionate about sharing all that is best about hip hop and urban music history.
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.