Fresh Faves: Batch 370

Aimée Steven

Artists at a glance

AIMÉE STEVEN
BETHLEHEM CASUALS
CHALK HORSE MUSIC
JJ DRAPER
KIDSMOKE
MOAK
MOLLY GREEN
SCARAMANGA
SKINNYBOY TUNES
THE POWDERED EARTH

These Fresh Faves were picked by our readers over the weekend – and reviewed by Fresh On The Net’s Kerry JK this week. You can hear all these tracks in a single Soundcloud playlist here.

AIMÉE STEVEN – Darling

“Darling is about liking someone and not knowing if they like you back and also being just a massive flirt, which I think people can relate to.” So says laconic Liverpudlian Aimée Steven, who makes a welcome return to the Fresh Faves with an earworm piece of alt-rock pop dripping with ironic aloofness. We last saw her back in Batch 358, with a track our own Oldie Rob accurately summed up with the remark “it’s boss this is”.

Darling is also boss, understatedly but confidently so. Part of this has to do with the unpretentious poise of the singer – in a world with no shortage of vainglorious tryhards, in her music and interviews she comes across as someone who set out to make music for herself, unexpectedly found she was a bit good at it and went all in, giving deference to her band, mentor producer Jon Withnall and a lovingly described list of vintage references along the way.

Effortlessly cool, real as a very real thing and a damn good musician and songwriter to boot. Who wouldn’t root for an artist like this?

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

BETHLEHEM CASUALS – The Drink

Off to the pub we go with Manchester’s Bethlehem Casuals, who are becoming regulars to the Fresh Faves with this, their fourth appearance. Four is also the number of The Drink, the fourth (and final) single from the band’s new album The Tragedy of the Street Dog, which came out in April.

Always a quirky treat, BC’s “music Jesus would listen to” is becoming tighter and more refined every time I hear them. Here we have a chock full mix of rattling timbales, driving congas, Arabic guitars and a tour de force saxophone performance accompanying a driving punky vocal. The composition is straight up epic, ambitious without sacrificing accessibility, a sonic adventure that rewards repeat listening again and again.

“The Drink delivers delights for the ear and senses in great hedonistic waves of instrumentation and vocal,” said FOTN’s Tobi in the Listening Post comments. “Wallow in it,” he added.

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Bandcamp

CHALK HORSE MUSIC – Hegemony

The subject of covers is an occasionally touchy one on sites such as ours. To be clear, we have no objection to cover versions being submitted, though impressing our listener base will require at least as much effort and creativity as would go into an original submission – verbatim covers of popular hits or maybe-funny-one-time “ironic” covers tend not to get anywhere. But when treated with due respect, adapting existing songs to new contexts and relevancies, covers and re-imaginings are part of the lifeblood of what we do as musicians. Neil March and myself wrote back-to-back articles on the topic back in 2018.

Sussex’s Chalk Horse Music are not a band to cover a song lightly. Passionate folklorists with an excellent regular radio show Mostly Folk, they are a group all about the stories and socio-historical contexts behind songs, no superficial jamsters they. So when this version of Scritti Politti’s 1979 punk track landed in our inbox with Chalk Horse’s name attached, I knew we were headed down a rabbit hole. They are yet to publish commentary for this particular track on their website, so here is my understanding of it, with apologies for any errors.

Scritti Polliti’s Green Gartside has acknowledged in interviews that Hegemony is based on the traditional song Lemady (aka Lemeney, Lemone, Arise And Pick A Posy and other variants). It is, to my ears at least, a satirical parody of the folk standard, taking a key verse (“…you are the sweetest creature”), substituting oppressive authority for the titular sweetheart and journeying from there to a grotesque conclusion.

In the May edition of Mostly Folk Chalk Horse invited a group of folklorists to speak about the traditional summer folk events that would have been happening around the country, were it not for the Covid-19 lockdown. Lemady is a song associated with summer rituals and prospective sweethearts, in whose absence we are left instead to deal in isolation with the whims and proclamations of a chaotic authoritarian government. The punk and folk genres have a long history of crossover especially when it comes to social comment, with this selection Chalk Horse Music have picked out a song whose time has very much come. Hegemony, you are the foulest creature.

Since I ought to mention the actual track at some point, it is a beautifully orchestrated affair with some very tasty brass arrangements mixed with acoustic and electronic elements, decidedly different from the deliberately wonky jazz of Scritti Politti’s original.

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

JJ DRAPER – …If You’re Awake In The Night

East London’s JJ Draper wrote this harrowing ballad about the murder of a black teenager that took place on the doorstep of his home in March of 2019. It takes a lot of bravery to sing about an experience like that, especially in as confessional a manner as he does here. There is a sense of guilt and helplessness throughout, like a man scarred by brutality of the incident and what if anything he could have done to help.

Draper is very aware of his place in the narrative and is cautious not to sully the impact with any hint of social bandwagoning – he noted on Twitter that it is a “disturbing coincidence” to release this song in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests (a cause he very much supports) and pulls no punches with the starkness of the lyric. “If it were my mission to make you feel alright, there would be omissions”, he notes in the second verse.

The song unfolds over a haunting soundscape of ambient loops, layered acoustic guitars, pianos and vibes that adds goosebumps with every listening. Powerful stuff.

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

KIDSMOKE – Layla’s Love

Like a pleasing palette cleanser after the narrative heaviness of the last track, here come Wrexham’s Kidsmoke, whose atmospheric, uplifting and downright lovely style of indie rock has made multiple appearances on the Fresh Faves, with plaudits from Steve Lamacq and Robert Smith to boot.

From the album A Vision In The Dark (out now on Libertino records), Layla’s Love is a sweet, driving jangle-’em-up with tasty bass guitar and drum performances underpinning beautifully placed vocal harmonies and back and forth counterpoints. Listening Post commenter Poppy found it “a gorgeous slice of Smithsy indie”.

The chilled upbeat optimism and tasty hooks make this perfect summer excursion car journeys, if only such a thing were permitted right now. No matter. Stick it on, get a cool drink and let your mind take you away on holiday.

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Bandcamp

MOAK – Tomorrow’s Promise

Enjoy your holiday? Good. Now we’re back in lockdown again.

“This goes down as the worst masquerade ball I’ve ever seen”, begins London spoken word artist Moak, launching into a stream of evocative wordplay over a steamy summer chill groove with a hazy refrain evocative of Roy Ayers. Moak’s poetry is plaintive and rich in pathos, but with a faithful yearning for the future.

“We are always told tomorrow’s never promised, a feeling emphasised by Covid-19,” he explains. “However, this track provides hope for better days to come”.

My notebook filled up with possible quotes from this, it drops crafted lines like a fully ripe fruit tree. I will settle on this example;
“TikTok is the craze now, but I’m guessing that’s because time heals.”

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

MOLLY GREEN – Dusky Haze

Bristol’s Molly Green has a silky soul voice that puts me in mind of a lower register Minnie Ripperton, effortless expression without an over-sung note to be found. Dusky Haze bursts forth over a rich arrangement dripping with retro orchestrations, jazzy voicings and a beautifully executed build up and take down ending, all held together with a supercool bass line.

A graduate of LIPA, Molly’s journey has so far taken her to the Glastonbury, Boomtown and Liverpool Sound City festivals with sold out headline slots at Liverpool’s Cavern Club.

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

SCARAMANGA – (You Took) Control

The second single from the fledgling Glaswegian duo Scaramanga, (You Took) Control is a piece of symphonic synthpop melodrama with some clever orchestrations around the looping sixteen bar cycle and a ranged wispy vocal with the right mix of opera and new wave foppishness. I’m hearing shades of Underworld, Suicide and early A-ha, with hints of some well developed musical chops on the part of singer Paul and synth wiz Stephen.

Their bio notes that they “recorded a bunch of songs pre-lockdown” which they are choosing to release episodically as singles, so keep watching this space. This focus on one single at a time allows for exploration via alternate versions and remixes, including a nice futurepop/house mix by Ben Stones.

Facebook | Twitter

SKINNYBOY TUNES – Pretty Little Mama (Feat. Sam Coe)

“Skinnyboy stole all the hooks”, declared FOTN’s Tobi in the Listening Post comments.

A groovy collage of Old Town Road-style loops, dub delay and a Beck-esque laid back blues-jam verse leading to a trippy piano-lifted chorus, Pretty Little Mama is a collaboration between Norfolk producer Skinnyboy and fellow Norwichian (is that the right word?) UK Americana singer-songwriter Sam Coe. The result is laid back, trippy and super feelgood.

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Bandcamp

THE POWDERED EARTH – Brambles

We conclude with a bittersweet pastoral lullaby from Gloucester duo of George Moorey and Shane Young, ably assisted by string players Gustaf Ljunggren and Alice White and vocalist Yvonne Lyon.

The Powdered Earth’s mission statement puts narrative storytelling front and centre, placing “little fictions in a gently layered, quietly powerful, often cinematic sonic backdrop that creates a minimalist, melodic melancholia.” Moorey’s past work has included a number of collaborative community music projects, including the beautifully conceptualised Spaces project building a musical treasure hunt around Gloucester’s historical buildings. Shane Young is a veteran session drummer, photographer and novelist with an impressive list of credits. All of this adds up to a group rich in conceptual as well as musical acumen, using the piano-led acoustic base as a springboard into lyrical journeys.

Brambles is an evocative exploration of the twists and turns of friendship, noting that “thorns will be persistent” but kinship will ultimately prevail.

Official | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Bandcamp

The Powdered Earth

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.

Kerry JK

“Musician Misfit” Kerry JK lives to make strange music for interesting and interested people and to help others do likewise. His third album Tales of Addictive Games and Exotic Pets is out now.

9 Comments

  1. Great reviews! Thanks for the shout outs on the quotes 😀

  2. Great reviews Kerry. As always your work is as informative as it is eloquent. :)

  3. Great reviews great tunes!

  4. Poppy

    Really enjoyed your reviews, Kerry – thoughtful and well-expressed, helping to deepen my appreciation of this great bunch of songs. And, as Tobi says, thanks for the quote! I’m really flattered that you mentioned my summary of “Layla’s Love”.

  5. @Poppy – thanks, and you’re very welcome! Please keep on engaging with the Listening Post as you are – you’re doing exactly what I did when I started posting here and it’s fantastic to have your comments each week. :)

  6. Thanks for reviewing Kerry JK. It’s lovely to have you write about us (a rare occurrence indeed!) and thanks for mentioning and linking Spaces too, an unexpected bonus. I like how your reviews made me go back and listen again with new intell. I’ve just relistened to jj draper’s track (again) – so powerful…. and I’ll be listening to these faves all this week, really strong set of artists and pieces and feeling privileged to be included. It’d be amazing and strange if both Aimee and us achieved a third faves listing together. We’d better start working out what to record next!

  7. Sue

    Very eloquently said – love the reviews Kerry :)

  8. Andy Page

    Great insightful set of reviews Kerry, they’re always a pleasure to read – I really enjoyed learning more about CHALK HORSE MUSIC and their version of Hegemony.
    You alos got me googling the term for a Norwich native out of curiosity…most answers aren’t repeatable here ;)

    All the Best

    A

  9. I can see myself going to see Bethlehem Casuals. Not my usual folky taste, but incredible, cheers

Write a Comment

*By clicking Submit Comment you agree to allow Fresh On The Net to store your dataPrivacy Policy