Artists at a glance
TEST CARD GIRL
THE GORSTEY LEA STREET CHOIR
My first faves reviews of 2021 and, as I write on Sunday evening, I am enjoying the last few hours of World Yorkshire Pudding Day. This was the subject of much debate on BBC 6 Music this morning. Just as that discussion revealed an eye-opening diversity of forms in which Yorkshire Puddings might be deployed; so this weekend’s Listening Post offered up a rich gravy of tracks boasting a dazzling array of flavours. What a pleasure and privilege to be able to review the ten tracks our readers chose.
APTEEKII – What’s Real?
Apteekii are a trio whose Soundcloud and social media pages seem to be designed to ensure we have no clue where they are based! However, on inspecting a review in The Unsigned Guide, we discover that they have had support from BBC Introducing in Cambridgeshire placing them somewhere within a metaphorical spitting distance of where our very own Tom Robinson spent his younger years.
What’s Real? is a striking track dominated by three-part male vocal harmonies and a delicate, appealing melody. The style is broadly Synth Pop leaning into Pop Balladry and yet, despite little stylistic similarity, there is a part of the melody that seems to (probably unknowingly) reference The Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Otherwise it is more in the territory of early Staves in a mash-up with Bon Iver, with the backing track provided by Nation of Language. Verdict: a subtle savoury blend with hints of sugar and spice. Served fresh but retains its flavour for a good long time.
CHLOË MARCH – All Things Good
I first heard the unique and otherworldly music of Chloë March on Tom Ravenscroft’s BBC 6 Music Show some 6 or 7 years ago. Little did I know that we would later become friends and we would both, in different roles, become stalwarts of Fresh On The Net. In that time she has continued to produce a consistent catalogue of beautifully-crafted songs and accomplished albums, recording for the Australian label Hidden Shoals. She has also repeatedly won the approval of our discerning readers who have regularly voted her tracks into the Fresh Faves.
All Good Things is a prime example of what Chloë does so well. The piano develops in waves of alternating, fluid chords that make room for the kind of sumptuous dissonances rarely heard on a pop record. The other sounds swirl and saunter around it, while her soft but distinct and assured voice takes hold; a subtle and savoury main course, adorned by a plateful of carefully contrasting side dishes. The song is reflective, melancholy and tugs at the heartstrings. But never does it dip down into sugary sentiment, and it is all the more emotionally powerful as a result.
CHRIS CATALYST – Make Good Art (feat. Neil Gaiman)
The absence of any links on Chris Catalyst’s Soundcloud page had me digging for info, which fortunately I found. So I can tell you that he is from Leeds, a city that keeps producing Fresh Faves successes. He recently won Track of the Week in Classic Rock magazine for this very song, which actually features fellow artist Neil Gaiman. Chris is known to Rock fans as frontman with Eureka Machines, while Neil is a fantasy writer who provides the spoken word element here.
Make Good Art mixes a classic Rock guitar riff with a syncopated beat, while the spoken word is carefully spaced out. What sounds like a horn section joins the mix, along with vocal “ah”s, all of which lend it a Fatboy Slim Big Beat aura. The chorus is muscular, a harmonised hook playing off against a descending chord sequence. All in all it offers an intriguing clash of styles between Rock, Gospel, EDM and a touch of ELO/late Beatles in the harmonic counter hook. An edgy dish in which the fruitier flavours mix in with some hot spices. Original in its production values and sizzling with oven-fresh energy.
FABLE – Orbiting
Is there ever a week where we don’t have at least one cool artist from Brighton? So it is with Fable. Described by The Guardian as “brooding cinematic electronica”, and by Clash Magazine as “dark, glistening synth-pop”, she makes music that shines bright in the neon cosmopolitan glow of pop music in the soarin’ twenties.
Orbiting has laid back bendy synths playing sustained chords over a Trip Hop-ish beat. Fable’s voice is whispery one moment, yearning and powerful the next. There is a jazziness to the tune, and the vocal brings to mind Angela Jaeger in a mash with Beth Gibbons. Portishead are certainly one of several references here. The translucent soundscape and wobbly guitar break add to the song’s alluring aura. Ultimately though, it is Fable’s voice and melody that take expertly organised ingredients and turn them into a five star meal.
Incidentally, a word of praise for Fable’s social media strategy. She uses the same account or page name (whoisfable) on all platforms making her easy to find, and her artwork is consistent too. These small attentions to detail can serve an aspiring artist well in today’s overcrowded digital music world.
PEGGY SEEGER – The Invisible Woman
Well this track has been both a talking point and a pleasant surprise. 85-year-old American Folk legend Peggy Seeger, now recording for indie label Red Grape, must be (and Tom or Steve can correct me if I’m wrong) our eldest artist both to make the Listening Post and to be emphatically voted into our Fresh Faves. Peggy’s past history is a matter of record. She was married to Ewan MacColl and clashed with McCarthy and the US establishment with her forthright ideas about politics and women’s rights. So much so that it was not until 1994 that she returned to the States. She is also the inspiration for Ewan’s song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, which happens to be my wife’s favourite song of all-time.
Wind the clock on to 2021 and we find Peggy delivering sardonic humour as she wonders aloud about exactly when she became so invisible, even claiming to have danced down the street in lacy underwear and still failed to be noticed! The song is skilfully written, lyrically clever in that it is humorous but makes its point, and adds a touch of defiance in its final verse. A delightful pot of organically fresh ingredients stirred into an unfussy and very tasty casserole. Her voice certainly shows no signs of age-related deterioration and the picking acoustic guitar sparkles throughout. Don’t write her off just yet.
ROUGHION – Cydymffurfiwch || Comply
Electronic music duo Roughion are also producers, remixers and promoters. Based in Aberystwyth on the Welsh west coast, they have received praise from BBC Introducing stalwart Bethan Elfyn, while her BBC Wales colleagues have branded them “Wales’s answer to the Chemical Brothers”.
On Cydymffurfiwch it is another Welsh artist Kelly Lee Owens whose name first pops into my head (including her collaboration with Welsh legend John Cale). There are shades of Four Tet and Floating Points too in the long sustained synth chords and staccato semi-quaver repetition played by a squelchy clav-like feature. The beat is relatively understated, a steady anchor for the excitable sounds that mill about over barely audible spoken word phrases. The effect is quite hypnotic. An exotic dish of soothing herbal essences amid the lively mixed assortment of smaller bites. There are floors just waiting to be filled by this slice of engaging electronica when the club scene returns although this might just as easily be a post-rave chillout track.
SAM EAGLE – How Often?
Sam Eagle is somewhat known to us at Fresh On The Net! Not least because, from time to time, he is one of our moderators, and the youngest too at 21. Managed by Kelly Munro of End of the Trail, Sam was blazing a trail as a live performer prior to the COVID pandemic. I saw him play in Brighton in 2019, and he and the band were top-notch. In early 2020, he signed with legendary indie label Cooking Vinyl and before that, he had enjoyed various appearances on BBC 6 Music and local BBC Introducing shows. 2021 looks set to be an important year for him.
How Often is out now, and there is an EP due for release in mid-April. There are characteristic Sam Eagle features with the funky bass figure that kicks it off, setting the pace for a buoyant Soul-Funk-Jazz backdrop to his distinctive voice and melodic style. The mid-section reminds me of Scritti Politti while the main body of the track sees him in territory somewhere between Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and Khruangbin, although I should qualify that by pointing out that it sounds little like either! It is catchy and cool, a pleasing plateful of snappy bites and crunchy pleasures. Putting the fun into funk-pop.
STILL CORNERS – White Sands
In all the excitement about Peggy Seeger and Hollie Cook being at the Listening Post, it seems few noticed that another well-established act were also there. Still Corners played their first session for BBC Radio 1 a decade ago, and have been regulars on BBC 6 Music over the years since. In 2012 they won Pitchfork’s Best New Track accolade, and they have been signed to their own Wrecking Light Records since 2016 having previously been on Sub-Pop. Their new album The Last Exit is their fifth to date and a European tour is scheduled for the Autumn. They have nearly 15K followers on Soundcloud alone (20.6K on Instagram, 66K on Facebook) and, alongside Hollie and Peggy, they make it another first (I think) of three artists on the same Listening Post who all have Wiki pages! (Fact: Sam Eagle has one too, but that’s the Muppets character of the same name!)
Still Corners are generally described in reviews as a Dream Pop duo consisting of Tessa Murray and Greg Hughes, but the new single White Sands blends that slightly ethereal quality with elements of Americana. It moves at a fairly quick tempo against which the sustained notes in the vocals provide a clever contrast. A repeating three-note riff sets the scene against shimmery guitar chords and a driving beat. The wangy Chris Isaak-like tremolo bar chords that echo into the distance add to the aura of long, dusty desert roads. Interestingly their website calls the sound ‘Desert Noir’. Tessa’s voice has both a breathy quality and a toughness that could almost be (Beach House’s) Victoria Legrand in a jam with (ex-Mazzy Star’s) Hope Sandoval. A classy concoction of rich flavours served with something bright and fizzy.
TEST CARD GIRL – Don’t Go
It is a real pleasure to see the highly likeable Caffs Burgis, aka Test Card Girl, in the Fresh Faves once again. The Arts Council-supported Manchester-based artist wowed us all in 2020 with the infectious Holds Me Down, subsequently picking up a long run of airplay as more media began to discover her talents (and I may as well tell you it is getting another spin on my own show next weekend). Lockdown has meant her being unable to get amongst it on the live scene, but that will hopefully change soon. She was unsurprisingly thrilled to get a play just weeks ago from Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music. Lammo has put her on his Ones To Watch List for 2021.
In the meantime she has hit us with another irresistibly catchy choon in the form of Don’t Go. This is folkier than Holds Me Down, although it still has a sassy beat and popping bassline that gives it a cool contemporary Pop feel. The melody is almost like a traditional campfire song (with a hint of Calypso) set against a simple tonic-dominant 7th (or I – V) format. It is so simple and yet so effective. Caffs’s engaging vocals and effortless melodic flair are matched by the way the strings build to a fortissimo, and then vanish into thin air at the climax of the track. A sweet and tasty recipe that will have you wanting seconds, thirds and fourths.
THE GORSTEY LEA STREET CHOIR – Saint Marie
The Gorstey Lea Street Choir have quite a history. Michael and Russ met as teenagers back in the mid-eighties, but it took until 2016 for them to turn their teenage plans — discussed at a time when both were involved in aspiring Manchester bands — into a reality with the birth of this project. Based in the former Staffordshire mining town of Burntwood, they have latterly had support from BBC Introducing and internet radio stations. I also recently reviewed another of their tracks in my Trust The Doc blog where I talked about “Pleading, swirling Powerpop that clearly references the heroic Pop of the eighties but with a contemporary bent (and hopefully without a mullet in sight!)”.
Now we have the track Saint Marie. Based around an unusual triplet-time configuration, the bassline drives the events while the guitar responds with major seventh and other chords. The male vocal has a deadpan baritone quality that reminds me a little of Robert Lloyd comparing notes with Richard Hawley while Neil Hannon pops in and out. Cooked in a large flat plan with a dash of oil and a gradually evolving source, the trumpet provides the final trimmings while the vocals add an earthy, wholesome quality to the final dish of the day.
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.