Artists at a glance
GEORGIA & THE VINTAGE YOUTH
JOHN ALEXANDER SCOTT
VICTORIA JANE KEARNEY
Welcome back, fellow lovers of new music. Summer may be virtually over but new music never sleeps and, after a Listening Post packed with talent, we had what, since I joined Team Freshnet in January 2018, is our highest turnout in any weekend’s vote. As I write, the first signs are that live music is coming back to life (albeit under strict social distancing restrictions). This is good news for many of the artists who submit music to Fresh On The Net. Promoters and venues are working to ensure events can be staged within strict COVID guidelines. In the meantime, it is my privilege to review these ten top tunes as chosen by our always discerning readers.
ANNIE DRESSNER – Midnight Bus (feat. Matthew Caws)
No stranger to Fresh On The Net readers, Annie Dressner is an American singer-songwriter who relocated to the UK some nine years ago and has been patiently building a loyal following, both live and on record. Her growing reputation is reflected by reviews in the likes of Cambridge Junction and Green Note, and airplay on Folk Radio, Exile FM and other significant independents. Sitting broadly within the ballpark of Indie Folk, she has a folk-edged storytelling style that stretches back to Suzanne Vega and Joan Armatrading, but her contemporary [acoustic] guitar-driven style places her closer to the likes of Margaret Glaspy and Laura Marling. Expect to see her out there notching up the live shows as we gear up for the ‘New Normal’.
Midnight Bus is a mid-tempo, laidback track with strumming acoustic guitar playing offset against picked note melody lines while Annie’s voice dominates. It reminds me just a little of Alanis Morrissette in a mash-up with Phoebe Bridgers. The switch between minor key verses and major key chorus, roughly speaking, adds a nice contrast as does the introduction of Matthew Caws in harmonies, which blend seamlessly with Annie’s, allowing the track to build organically towards a beautiful finish.
CHINWE – Intoxicated
Chinwe is an East London-based singer-songwriter who makes soulful music that tends to address darker lyrical subjects. Indeed Chinwe told the magazine American Songwriter that she rarely writes happy songs about falling in love. Her influences include Nina Simone and Portishead, which explains the blend of lo-fi sparseness with a jazz-infused and sophisticated harmonic language. Growing up in a music-oriented household with parents from Nigeria and Jamaica, Chinwe learned violin from a young age but once she taught herself guitar, she discovered her real passion.
Intoxicated has drawn lavish praise from the aforementioned American Songwriter and also from Get In Her Ears. It is heartwarming and rich, her distinct alto-range vocals taking centre stage as she croons almost lazily at times over deep synth chords and minimal beat. Timbre-wise, her voice reminds me of Erykah Badu mixing it with Celeste. Intoxicated quickly gets inside my head and sucks me into its sultry, laidback vibe. Soulful, imaginative and stylishly delivered.
CHOLLY – Good Angel
Cholly (aka Chloe Tennant) has had a fruitful year and a bit. The singer-composer, based in High Wycombe, but with strong roots in the Swindon area, played a series of summer festivals in 2019 (including the inaugural Fresh On The Net Live). In 2020, BBC Introducing In The West consolidated their ongoing support for Cholly by including her in the lockdown BBC Airwaves Festival and their BBC Introducing show was also first to play this new single a couple of weeks ago. She had been two-thirds of the way into her first mini-tour when the final dates were scuppered by lockdown.
Cholly’s unique sound has been called many things; among them Cinematic Pop, Electronic Alt Pop and Synth Pop. In truth she is probably all three and more! Good Angel is characteristically haunting, the track building through layers of vocal harmony, otherworldly synths and crunching beats. It has a cool video to boot. Cholly is quietly but determinedly building her profile, engaging audiences across social media and gearing up to get amongst it again as the live music scene re-emerges from its hideout. She performs with her partner and fellow former fresh fave Conor (aka A Motion For Control).
COLOURTELLY – Apple
ColourTelly are a duo from London consisting of Evangeline Cunningham and Ollie Chubb. Their sound incorporates a lot of flavours, but is essentially a highly contemporary take on electronic and synth pop. The impression, from their social media pages, is that they are quite early on in their journey, which makes it all the more impressive that they have developed such a self-assured and distinct style.
Apple has a spacious sound, octave-apart vocals giving way to sweet harmonies while the electronic sounds and popping bassline keep things sparse but agreeably warm and major key. References are not easy to pinpoint but there are shades of Katy J Pearson, Roisin Murphy and, vocally, at times even a hint of Arlo Parks. They cite a range of genre influences including Hip Hop and Neo Soul but this is very much in Electronic Pop territory. Moreover it is very appealing and strangely relaxing which, in essence, makes it Ambient in the true sense of the word. I look forward to hearing more of their engaging music.
FRANK BIRTWISTLE – Winter Hill
Sheffield-based guitar virtuoso Frank Birtwistle is a prolific writer and performer of beautifully crafted solo classical and related instrumental guitar music. And Frank, like his music, cuts a serene figure, unassuming in one sense, driven in another. It is a measure of how impressive his guitar pieces are that when he pops up on radio shows and other media, it tends to spark an array of positive comments.
Winter Hill is characteristically thoughtful, his shimmering style and resonant sound providing the perfect template for his melodic sensibilities. Frank’s playing is pristine. Never a damp string! The track swings in 6/8 (triplet) time, a mixture of appealing chord play, effortless arpeggios and clever switching between major and minor, adding the appropriate light and shade. His fine form continues.
GEORGIA & THE VINTAGE YOUTH – Overthinker
London-based Georgia & The Vintage Youth were (fairly) recently the subject of a live review I wrote for Fresh On The Net, and they are one seriously entertaining band. So it must have been like pulling teeth for them to sit through lockdown, unable to gather in one place and jam. Fortunately, with stalwart support from the excellent folk at Talentbanq, they have stayed focused while Georgia has continued writing and developing her unique brand of Soul-infused Pop. It comes with an almost music hall British twist, similar in a way (though not in style) to how Madness brought a distinct Englishness to their version of Ska. In Georgia, the band has a truly charismatic leader with an A* in working a crowd.
Over Thinker announces its intentions from the outset with swinging choppy piano chords and Bar Kays-like horns. The band provides a steamy Soul-Pop soundtrack to Georgia’s strong and distinct voice. It is an unapologetically retro style that wears its Motown and Stax homage on its collective sleeve alongside an air of Billie Holliday and a hint of Dusty Springfield. Yet it has a punchy contemporary edge too that brings to mind the likes of Paloma Faith, Pixie Lott and Amy Winehouse. The catchy hook rounds off an accomplished performance. Good to see them back in our Fresh Faves.
JOHN ALEXANDER SCOTT – They Are Waiting
It isn’t every day (nor even every week) that we have a poet at the Fresh Faves but that is who and what Edinburgh’s John Alexander Scott is. Now living in Kendal in the Lake District, he has toured around the North West of England in addition to appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe and Bearded Theory Festivals. As lockdown landed, John teamed up with musician friend Martin Dewar to record an album of spoken word backed by ambient music.
They are waiting is one of the results of this collaboration and sees John Alexander Scott’s slightly foreboding and mildly intense poetic delivery offset by the warm, if sparse, backdrop of synths and ambient sounds. It is nicely done, with the right balance of semi-detached expression and otherworldly soundscape.
MACHINA X – Secrets
Machina X are a great example of how the digital world enables artists to collaborate across continents, with Annie providing vocals, lyrics, melodies and harmonies from her base in Sheffield, while Cyrus beavers away from his studio in Burma, producing futuristic sounding backing tracks. Their patient and meticulous work has seen them consistently produce a high standard of music over the past year, catching the ears of independent radio stations and gathering a firm following on social media. Their videos offer a further strand of creativity and imagination.
Secrets is one of five tracks on their impressive Future Imperfect EP. A more laidback track by comparison to some of their music, which at times veers into Drum’n’Bass and synth-driven Alt Pop, it sees Cyrus providing a lovingly crafted soundworld in which Annie’s distinct and appealingly melancholic voice can stretch out, aided by her talent for striking melodies and dystopian lyrical themes. Their situation means playing live is not on their current agenda but if they continue to build on the successes of this past year, 2021 bodes well for Machina X.
PUBLIC BODY – Ask Me Later
Public Body seem to be somewhat coy about revealing where in the UK they are from. So much so that even Clash Magazine ran a feature on them and failed to mention it! Their success in attracting the attention of Clash and similarly established media is a measure of how far they have come. It turns out, having found the answer on the band’s Instagram, that they are yet another in the seemingly bottomless pit of exciting new talent emerging from Brighton. Prior to lockdown they were playing significant venues including The Shacklewell Arms in East London and several other notable London and Brighton hotspots. No doubt they will be out there playing again very soon.
Ask Me Later kicks off at a fast tempo with spiky guitars that recall Devo in a mash with Gang Of Four while the semi-spoken male vocal brings to mind the likes of Do Nothing and Fontaines DC. There is a political undercurrent to their lyrics which is also reflected in their social media. Their Facebook page describes ‘‘The face of a destabilised workforce in a society that secretes symbolic concessions as a defence reflex against meaningful change”. Ask me later bristles with energy and channels their frustrations into a tasty slice of Alternative Pop cake. Well worth a bite or ten.
VICTORIA JANE KEARNEY – Family Tree
Victoria Jane Kearney is a singer-songwriter whose response to the unsettling experience of lockdown has been to write a memoir of becoming mother to a baby daughter. It is an experience she has found comforting and creative. Reviewing it in Circus Journal, Emily Payne talks of her album taking us to a “… real and raw emotional landscape where the feelings of motherhood are accepted, celebrated and translated into beautiful melodies”. Victoria’s Facebook artist page shows the love her followers have for her music too.
Family Tree floats into view atop a lovely acoustic guitar picking figure. Victoria’s vocal is pure and emotionally touching. There are shades of Judee Sill before the arrangement fills out a little with more guitar, upper register piano melody and warm synth strings, all of which encourage Victoria to demonstrate her register and dynamic range. Names come to mind like Judie Tsuke and Sandy Denny alongside more contemporary references like Maggie Rogers, Julia Jacklin and Lisa Hannigan. Victoria has a wonderful voice. That, along with her penchant for delicate, hauntingly beautiful songs and skilful musicianship are why you should take the time to lose yourself in her gentle but irresistible waves of sound.
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.