Artists at a glance
Well here we are again, lovers of new music. The votes have been counted, we’ve seen off any legal challenges and we are not waiting for any more pots of absentee ballots to arrive! No electoral college here. Just ten worthy winners as chosen by you, our amazing and discerning readers. It is my privilege to review them this week.
AFRO CLUSTER – Young Shall Grow Ft. Magugu & Asha Jane
Great to see the return to our Fresh Faves of Cardiff’s awesome urban collective Afro Cluster. They have been gathering a formidable reputation for their live shows over recent years which must make it incredibly frustrating for them that, thanks to the COVID shenanigans, they last played live in July. Hopefully 2021 will see them back out there wowing audiences across Wales and further afield.
In the meantime we have this latest track. An uptempo triplet time train ride, it delivers a welcome, positive message while traversing elements of Afro Funk, Hip Hop and Soul. Magugu’s striking deep baritone voice contrasts appealingly with Asha Jane’s octave-up unison double-ups interspersed with harmonies and her dynamic soulful solo moments. The verses sit midway between staccato sung vocals and very musical rap. The horns are sparkling, mixing spritely melody figures with cool stabs. This engaging soundscape emerges and develops like the sun rising over a decisive day of mail-in vote counts. Like their recipient, Young Shall Grow is a proper winner.
BEA – These Streets Of Ours
BEA has no links on her Soundcloud page, as indeed neither do the majority of this weekend’s artists, but I did find an article about her though which is here, so I know she is a Northern Irish singer-songwriter influenced by the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Foy Vance, Hozier and others. Now studying songwriting in London, BEA describes her music as Hazy Folk Pop.
These Streets Of Ours is a song about the aftermath of breaking up with someone. It sits in mid-tempo, the accompaniment dominated by slower chord progressions while the melody is faster and more fluid. I can definitely hear shades of Phoebe Bridgers along with a dynamic and appealing vocal style that carries echoes of Dolores O’Riordan and Andrea Corr. The melody has a melancholy aura and burrows into the brain in rapid time while the arrangement builds climatically in a gradual arc before melting softly away at the end. All very nicely done.
KAMAU KURU – Honey
According to his social media pages, Kamau Kuru hails from Camden in North Londonand “makes beats”. That being so, I am not sure whether he or someone else provides the accompanying music. He has been the previous recipient of airplay from our own Tom Robinson on the BBC Radio 6 Music Introducing Mixtape Show.
Kamau Kuru’s Soundcloud talks of a liking for “non-Western Funk”. Certainly, on the evidence of Honey, there are some non-Western flavours mixing it with a slightly R’n’B-infused guitar and beat figure. Like a ballot count in a Swing State, it takes a little time for the track to reveal answers, a lengthy intro leaving us in suspense about whether and when the vocals will arrive.
A review of a previous track of his by Monkeyboxing talks about “Turkish, Persian and Indian Psych/Funk samples over dusty breaks” and those vibes pop up here too. A breathy female vocal provides the main melody while the guitar is cleverly broken up and the beat is persistent. Pop with an exotically Eastern streak.
NIA WYN – Muzzle
Welsh Soul siren Nia Wyn is a regular at Fresh On The Net. To put that in perspective this is her third time making the faves since March 2020 alone. Based in London these days, she has a manager and agent acting for her. Recent months have seen her receive support from BBC Radio Wales and enthusiastic backing from Amazing Radio. In September she also saw her track Who Asked You? included in the FIFA ‘21 soundtrack where my 20 year old football coach/student son reliably informs me that it is one of the most popular and played tracks in the game.
Muzzle sees Nia hooking up with another rapidly rising artist R.A.E on a sassy R’n’B-leaning Pop tune in which Nia admits ‘I’ve been running my mouth again’ and rues her indiscreet conduct. Well at least she didn’t accuse over half a nation of electoral fraud so nothing that can’t be styled out in time! This tale is told to the backdrop of crisp beat, picking guitar and in-and-out backing vocals. Nia’s distinct, edgy voice has echoes of Macy Gray in a mash-up with Amy Winehouse while R.A.E’s rap nods to Missy Elliott. It’s an eminently radio-friendly track, instantly infectious and punchily produced.
NOPRISM – Happiness
Newcastle-Upon-Tyne-based NOPRISM describe their music as “Indie” but on the evidence of Happiness, they are closer to an eighties-influenced Epic Synth Pop with driving synth lines in bass and chord parts alongside big reverberant drum programmes and harmonised male vocals blasting out over a cinematic soundscape. Optimistic Pop with a tinge of darkness but no fake news here, people! Their deserved presence in the Faves puts paid to any suggestion of voter fraud or irregularities!
There is not a huge amount of information easily found but they had a gig advertised in June (although presumably it was scuppered by lockdown). Hopefully 2021 will offer the opportunity to take their ambitious sound out live again. Happiness is a big, instantly catchy track that recalls the likes of Heaven 17 in a jam with The Beloved while Pottery officiate. As I said at the outset, epic and not a little cinematic. Synth Pop for the 2020s.
STAY LUNAR – Not Your Fight
Bristol’s Stay Lunar are a quintet who have wasted no time in developing both their shimmering epic pop sound and a striking visual identity that involves a lot of pink and grey in their imagery. That includes photo shoots and videos. They have also caught the attention of BBC Introducing in the West (appearing specifically on BBC Radio Bristol) and have been bagging reviews from the likes of Indie Central and Dancing About Architecture. They have even got a track into a short movie soundtrack. All impressive stuff.
Not Your Fight storms out of the speakers with energetic and optimistic intent. It brings to mind Everything Everything in a jam with Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Quick tempo with driving beat and synth melodies aplenty playing off against full band arrangement while male vocals sit in centre stage. The production is perfect, capturing the intensity of their performance. Futurist Pop with cinematic vision. They may not have come to take the White House but they have come to wake the sleeping statues of pop procrastination and put down a firm down payment on a bright (but not necessarily orange) future.
TAPESTRI – Open Flame
Lowri Evans and Sera Zyborska met by chance at Lorient Celtic Festival in France in 2019. From that encounter came Welsh duo Tapestri, a Folk and Americana influenced act who are enjoying repeat appearances on the BBC Radio Wales “Welsh A-List” with broadcasting legend and long-time new music supporter Janice Long calling them “absolutely captivating”. Open Flame is available sung in both English and Welsh (Y Fflam). You can hear the Welsh version on their Soundcloud page and I thoroughly recommend you give it a play.
It is not difficult to see why they are capturing the attention of radio shows and other media. Open Flame blends a hauntingly distant and resonant pedal steel figure and soft acoustic guitar and piano chords with gorgeous vocal harmonies sung in clear, expressive voices that remind me a little of The Staves, I SEE RIVERS (another recent fresh fave based in Wales) and Ward Thomas. The song has an otherworldly quality but it is warm and lovingly crafted too. After a week in which we have all had to read and listen to alarming amounts of undiluted hatred and misinformation (the fanning of Open Flames even!), this song presents a soft, subtle and sumptuous antidote. Let Tapestri carry you off to an altogether more agreeable place.
TRAGIC SASHA – Movie Star
Tragic Sasha is another artist with Fresh Faves pedigree. Reviewing her back in February Tom Robinson noted the acclaim she had received and the fact that Huw Stephens had played the track in question on Radio 1 before going on to say “… Sasha has put an unbelievable amount of work into honing these lyrics and delivering a pin-perfect performance with a twinkle in her eye.” It is possible that one Neil March may also have talked with Sasha about putting her on at a live event before COVID arrived and wrecked a lot of plans! An alumnus of the Institute of Contemporary Music Practice, a quick look at Sasha’s online footprint reveals BBC Introducing support and appearances on the Mixtape going back a couple of years.
Movie Star finds Tragic Sasha on fine form. A slower track, accompanied by piano chords, vibrato synth and a generally translucent backdrop, it allows her to stretch out, telling the tale of unattained childhood and teenage dreams. It is delivered in her soft but assured semi-soprano range courtesy of a heart-tugging melody and some sweet and unexpected chordal and key changes. The dynamics are subtle, just rising up enough to send a few swarms of butterflies into flight at the right moments. As the sun sets on a week in which one man’s arrogance threatened to stink out our news and social media feeds, this woman’s eloquence brings instead a bitter sweetness and a sizeable breath of fresh air.
UMA – Bring Me The Mountain (ft. Lucy Lu)
Uma is a singer-songwriter based partly in London and partly in Barcelona. She records for Slow Dance Records and appears to have been steadily expanding her catalogue while working with an international cast of collaborators. Bring Me The Mountain was written, with collaborator Luke, in response to the fears and feelings stoked up by COVID 19 and “living in confinement”. The title could then hint at the adage of “if the mountains won’t come to Mohammed” (rather than a typical daily demand of a recently deposed President!). The evocative music adds a sense of colour (no, not orange!). Uma’s Facebook page sees her express gratitude to all who contributed to the track’s making.
The song has a marked quietness about it. Echoing sparse twangy guitar picks out low register notes. What sounds like synth floats in and out while a strange percussive echo envelopes certain phrases. The dominant feature is the creative use of voices, sometimes in octave-apart unison, sometimes in close harmony. It is extremely atmospheric and the stop-start approach to the accompanying soundscape is cleverly managed, reinforcing the ethereal aura. Original, enigmatic, it compels me to listen again.
YOVA – An Innocent Man
Yova describe themselves, perhaps pointedly [in today’s digitally obsessed world] as an “analogue songwriting duo”. They are Macedonian-born singer Jova Radevska and London-based musician Mark Vernon. Jova is the lyricist too and her story telling style is much in evidence in the dark tale of an innocent man labelled guilty without trial. Hmmmm, people making unfounded allegations. Who does that bring to mind?! Lol! This is the fourth single from the duo. Their Instagram has various references to film making. If that is also part of their creative output, it may partly explain their ability to recognise a strong script. The video has been nominated for an award and the track has had airplay on Macedonia’s biggest radio station. Exciting times ahead.
An Innocent Man is sparse and understated. Jova’s distinct and whispery voice takes centre stage. Mark accompanies with light-textured guitar, initially picking in extended triads before introducing more figures as strings come and go as do quiet echoing bells and other sounds. Haunting and a little daunting. Easy to see why it has captured the imagination of our readers. The future is bright and it’s definitely not orange!!
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.