Artists at a glance
PALE BLUE EYES
Wow, the first Fresh Faves of December 2020. Hands up, who’s ready for Christmas? Hmmm, me neither! But I’m sure some of you said “yes”! Lockdowns, tiers and social distancing rules may have taken the shine off the celebrations as we approach the end of the strangest year in living memory, yet they haven’t put a dent in the creativity of the bands and artists we hear each week. So welcome to a Winter’s Tale of ten top tunes. Yes folks, All I want for Xmas is New Music! I’ll get my coat!
ASTRAL CLOUD ASHES – In Ruans
No stranger to Fresh On The Net, having been a Fresh Fave on two previous occasions, Astral Cloud Ashes is the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Anthony Walker. Based on the [Channel] island of Jersey, he describes his influences as including Japanese culture and cryptocurrency, but I think you can add Post-Punk, Alt Pop and Psychedelia to that list! His track record to date includes being selected for BBC Introducing play on Radio 1 courtesy of Huw Stephens, and an appearance on Tom Robinson’s BBC Radio 6 Music Introducing Mixtape. If you click on his SubmitHub page you will also find links for some significant blog reviews.
In Ruans is one of Astral Cloud Ashes’ slower tracks, kicking off with an extended instrumental intro in which the guitar melody has an almost Eastern element. Major and minor sevenths and suspensions add a rich quality to the guitars that dominate. There are few vocals but those that eventually arrive have an otherworldly quality, tracked and slightly filtered, enhancing an appealing melody. It is an unusual and original track, full of invention and delivered with trademark polish.
AULD SPELLS – 14th Floor
Edinburgh quintet Auld Spells collectively have a fascinating past. Singer and guitarist Tommy Danbury was part of the Washington DC hardcore Punk scene before relocating to Los Angeles, where he supported the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Spindrift and others. In 2019 he crossed the Atlantic and wound up in the Scottish capital. There he formed Auld Spells with Rob Spellsman (Keyboards), Peter Wilson (Drums) and brothers Murray and Sandy Raeburn on Guitar and Bass respectively, all stalwarts of the Edinburgh live scene. The band has subsequently headlined at Leith Depot (venue of the inaugural Fresh On The Net Live, Scotland), Henry’s Cellar Bar and Sneaky Pete’s.
14th Floor finds them in fairly laidback mode. Tommy Danbury’s vocal is deep and has a crooner-ish element. Imagine The National mixing it up with Jeff Buckley and Chris Isaak while the Byrds officiate! There is a large dose of Americana in the waves of Country-tinged guitar jangle, sustained keyboard chords and sweet harmonies. It is tuneful and major key but with a hint of melancholia too.
BITMAP – We’re Losing The Will To Survive (The Skylab Disaster)
Returning to the Fresh Faves where it was also me who reviewed Bitmap in February 2020, the alias of writer, producer and artist Luke Barwell hits us with another unique track. Luke is from East Riding (Yorkshire) in the North of England and has a history of success at Fresh On The Net and BBC Radio 6 Music.
On We’re Losing The Will to survive, Bitmap echoes widely felt symptoms of the seemingly endless lockdown-tier-lockdown-tier maze we are forced to live in. It is poppier than some of his material — his vocal melody with driving synth and drum pattern in the verses reminding me a little of OMD — while the chorus lifts the track into something quite distinct. “I don’t know if the rain’s gonna fall/I don’t care if the rain’s gonna fall/I don’t know if you miss me at all” he sings. The track motors along, sucking me in with its sumptuous sound combinations and catchy melodies. Despite its title, it is genuinely uplifting.
ELBROOK COURT – The Saint Of 9th Street
It was only weeks ago that I was talking to Forest Moon, Scotland’s Elbrook Court (aka G Craig Spence) on social media about the frustrations he was facing in trying to get the mixes he wanted by using his phone. A short time later, having found better mixing software online, he narrowly missed out on the Listening Post with what was, at the time, his best track so far, and which I reviewed in my blog. Now a week later he is a Fresh Fave. It is a remarkable and heartwarming tale that supports all the oft-repeated phrases about perseverance and tenacity. Next step hopefully will be a play on BBC Scotland, something he has been trying for.
Certainly Fresh On The Net readers showed no hesitation in endorsing his talent by voting The Saint of 9th Street comfortably into the faves. There is a nod towards Big Beat in the driving syncopated drum programme while the sampled female spoken word spells out words, tripping over itself to the accompaniment of long synth notes, cleverly chosen breaks and contrasting uses of samples and synths. Elbrook Court is over those teething troubles and his obvious joy in making these tracks is infectious.
EMILY BARKER – Machine
Australian artist Emily Barker has impressive pedigree with rave reviews from the likes of Mojo and Uncut on her CV already. She has been compared to Phoebe Bridgers and Laura Marling and described as an “Australian P.J. Harvey”. Let’s face it, those are references no right-minded individual could fail to be heartened by. Based in the UK, she has been spending some time tucked away in the heart of the Welsh Valleys, recording with producer Greg Freeman whose own CV includes Amy Winehouse, Peter Gabriel and Portico Quartet.
Machine starts off with just voice and percussion, folky and slightly dark with an air of Polly Harvey in a mash with Sandy Denny. As vocal harmonies enter the fray, there are stop-start electronic sounds too but the voice and percussion continue to take centre stage, highlighting both the strength and agility of Emily Barker’s voice and the melodic quality of the song with its daunting lyrics. A masterclass in the philosophy of “less is more”.
JACKSON MATHOD – India
South London-based multi-instrumentalist Jackson Mathod is a singer-songwriter who cites Fat Freddie’s Drop, Submotion Orchestra and Christian Scott as influences. He is especially known as an accomplished trumpeter with a love of Jazz, Blues and Swing, all of which inform his writing. In his session musician role he has played for the likes of Stormzy, Jordan Rakei and Julian Joseph to name a few.
India actually starts off with an Indian-classical aura while the trumpet lends the track a mystical feel too. As the horns become a section and the beat picks up, it sounds more like a funky slice of Contemporary Jazz Fusion. Trumpet continues to dominate the track, the playing at times breathtaking while the piano sets out the harmonic language underpinning the piece. The changes of mood, tempo and texture are a pleasant surprise, bringing a dreamy desert sun quality to the mid-section before it all picks up again and the horns carry us through to an energetic close. Classily done.
LOW ISLAND – In Your Arms
Oxford’s Low Island have been recipients of the 2020 PPL Momentum Fund and have already received praise from BBC Radio 6 Music stalwarts Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinson, as well as NME, The Times, The Independent and DIY who described them as “… instinctive shape-shifters, darting between the uplifting electronica and intimate ballads that have characterised the 4 EPs they have released so far”. The band consists of childhood friends Carlos Posda (Vocals & Multi-Instrumentalist), Jamie Jay (Production), Jacob Lively (Bass Guitar) and Felix Higginbottom (Drums).
In Your Arms has a mystical aura that reminds me a little of some of the early Canterbury bands and yet the sounds it deploys are very much those associated with downtempo electronica. The resonant keyboard chords and shuffling drum beat are the glue holding all the elements together here. Imagine late night (or perhaps early morning) Ibiza in a collision with Woodstock while Corfu looks on! Not bad for a band from the South East of England! We love originality at Fresh On The Net and Low Island give us exactly that.
MICHAEL DONOGHUE – Mummy
This may well be the first time we have had two artists from Jersey in the Channel Islands in the Faves the same week. Michael Donoghue has little information available online but does tell us that he’s “… an independent electronic artist, composing left-field electronica which draws in influences from several genres, including ambient electro, downtempo, techno, and IDM”.
Mummy has a four-to-the-floor beat that leans towards Techno with its mechanical, repeating synth bassline but the vibe is much more downtempo and chilled. It is built around a mixture of electronic bass patterns, long twisting synth notes and ambient noises echoing in the distance. Michael Donoghue also manages to achieve a spacious quality that allows each sound to identify itself in an uncluttered environment. Very coolly delivered.
PALE BLUE EYES – Motionless
Presumably named after the Velvet Underground classic, Pale Blue Eyes hail from Totnes in South Devon (in England’s deep South West). They describe themselves as “Sonic Yorks vs. the richest Devon cream-pop”. Pale Blue Eyes are a young looking trio (two males on guitar and bass; one female on drums) and there is a video short of Motionless on their Facebook page. That page also informs us that they have just received airplay courtesy of Marc Riley on BBC Radio 6 Music which is no mean feat for a new and aspiring band.
Motionless has a dreamy Psychedelic Pop feel about it. It’s part-shoegaze, with obvious nods to Ride and Lush, but also has a pop sensibility that places it closer to the likes of King Creosote and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. The momentum of the track is immediate and they make an agreeably punchy, energetic and highly reverberant sound. They can write a strong melody too.
THE FONTANAS – Capoeira Mata Um
Getting much information about The Fontanas is a challenge but their website says they play “funky Brazilian and Afro Latin vibes”. Their favourite image is of three identical women, but it doesn’t appear that they are actually The Fontanas! In another pic on their Facebook page we see two men in a spacious studio! Anyway, what you will want to know is that they have had airplay and lavish praise both from DJ Edu on BBC 1Xtra and from actor and presenter Craig Charles on the BBC Radio 6 Music Soul and Funk Show.
Capoeira Mata Um is Portuguese for “Capoeira kills one” which is possibly not all that enlightening about the subject matter! But who cares? The song helped to light up a strong Listening Post with its lilting Latin sensibilities and a passionate male vocal that has shades of the Gibson Brothers (if they had sung in Portuguese, that is) mixing it with Bare Bones. The syncopated horns have a Salsa edge although the beat is more Samba. Infectious, uplifting and a perfect finale to another top tranche of tracks. Happy listening, all. 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.