Artists at a glance
CONSTANT LITTLE GHOST
THE DEEP BLUE
THE ELEPHANT TREES
THE HAPPY SOMETHINGS
THE SHINING TONGUES
Ho ho ho it’s the last Fresh Faves reviews before Christmas (or whatever version of year-end celebrations you prefer). It may be winter outside but, in Fresh On The Net hearts, it’s Spring with new music continuing to provide warmth and comfort amid the COVID chaos. In other words, Happy Christmas, war is over … there somewhere! Over here, it is my pleasure and privilege to review another ten banging tracks as chosen by our always discerning readers. Fresh On The Net will reopen on 10th January. In the meantime, seasonal best wishes to all.
B-AHWE – Circles
B-ahwe is Bethany Harrington, a returning Fresh Fave. A quick glance through her recent social media posts shows she is not short of airplay or reviews including the likes of Wordplay, Jazz FM and Gigwise. Add to this support slots with Nubiyan Twist and Run Logan Run and things are clearly going well for Bethany and her band. Circles actually first appeared on the album Motions which was released in September 2021 and continues to have momentum.
B-ahwe’s style is strongly jazz-infused but nods towards R’n’B. Bethany’s voice has a soft, whispery tone but her delivery is strong, agile and dynamic and her sound is distinct. The band exude high standards of musicianship and there is some particularly tasty electric piano play a la Joe Sample meets Tommy Eyre while the beat is syncopated and highly contemporary. At times the vocals are rapid-fire; fast triplets playing off against the seam of the track. Shades of Poppy Ajudha in a jam with Nai Palm while Greentea Peng drops by. Overall it is a refreshingly light-textured and dreamy track, always wearing its jazz influences on its sleeve and decorated with some quite exotic vocal harmonies. More soulful and sophisticated than joyful and triumphant. Joyous either way.
BOLLO BOLLO – Mental Mirror
Bollo Bollo hail from Buckinghamshire and have been gigging around a wide geographical area including venues well-known to me like The Phoenix in High Wycombe and The Horn in St Albans. They are doing it the right way too, getting out and about and offering what looks like good quality merchandise with which to deck the halls. You will fa la la la like what you see and hear!
Mental Mirror kicks off with punchy beat, jangly guitars, fluid bass and slightly melancholy male vocals. Their sound has shades of Bleach Lab in a mash with China Bears while Gengahr lend ingredients. In a sense they belong to a long lineage of Alt Pop and Indie bands stretching back to the mid-eighties but their sound is fresh and vibrant. Most impressive is the obvious chemistry that enables them to infuse Mental Mirror with inventive instrumental parts and pronounced dynamic contrasts that play off perfectly against appealing vocal melodies. Do you hear what I hear? Sounds good to me.
CONSTANT LITTLE GHOST – There Is A Place In The Universe Where You And I Can Fly Faster Than Light
Constant Little Ghost is the artist name of Jay, originally from Hounslow, but now based in Clapton, North East London. There he has been “… experimenting with a simple analog step sequencer, three monosynths, an 80s drum machine and a very crackly guitar pedal. (Recorded in one live take – warts and all)” and making heart-warming electronic ambient music such as you will hear on There Is A Place In The Universe Where You & I Can Fly Faster. Did I mention that, like me, he supports Watford FC? Us Hornets need to cling to such notions!
Anyway I digress. There Is A Place… is a romantic and hopeful title and that is reflected by the music which is built on great growling, buzzy synth chords in a major key that build gradually until strings bring a more minor key melancholia to the table. The sense of yearning grows in this combination but, as the track develops towards its final stretch, we hear the major key optimism winning the battle and we end with the feeling that there is sufficient gold, frankincense and [much] myrth to take this vision of utopia over the line. Unique, original and rather beautiful too. I am looking forward to him making his live debut at Vanishing Point in the Spring.
FIRESTATIONS – Reflection Spells
London band Firestations have a long and distinguished history that includes appearing on our own Tom Robinson’s BBC 6 Music Introducing Mixtape Show as long ago as 2014. The band members all have impressive past histories and continue to be involved in other projects. They record for Lost Map Records. COVID allowing, they are due to headline a gig jointly sponsored by Sonic Tonic and Joyzine at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney on 21st January. Hopefully anything but a Silent Night. Plenty of Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.
Reflection Spells is slightly mystical Dream Pop meets Psychedelia with contrasting male vocals in a call and response mode over fuzztone guitars and a laid back mid-tempo groove. At times they join a current Alt Pop sensibility with echoes of Woodstock era spaced out folkiness. Melodically pleasing, it builds to climatic spells before stripping everything back and going through the same process over again. The simple but striking guitar melodies remind me of Will Sergeant in a jam with the Magic Numbers. All in all, plenty of thought and love has gone into bringing an epic quality to a well-written and carefully constructed track.
RENDER GHOSTS – Eye Rhyme
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Render Ghost’s Tom O.C Wilson who has attended a couple of my Vanishing Point nights in North Lewisham. He is a classically-trained composer who has teamed up with Dutch singer and artist Tamara Van Esch and well-respected Sound Artist Iain Chambers. Such a combination might lead you to expect an avant-garde contemporary art music project. But on the contrary, Render Ghosts’ mission is all about bringing Synth Pop into the current era by taking its sonic potential to the limit and, in essence, continuing the work that was started by early pioneers such as the original Human League line-up, Naked Lunch and others at the beginning of the 1980s.
Eye Rhyme certainly nods firmly to that history with an instantly infectious melody, translucent texture and short synth figures that recall the early days of Electronic Pop in the UK (OMD, Soft Cell et al) while introducing contemporary sounds and agreeable resonance that have more in common with current bands like Nation of Language and Metronomy. I have actually had this song in my drive for a few weeks as I was playing it on my radio shows since early December, and I can tell you that I have been walking around the house singing the hook numerous times. Not quite rocking around the Christmas Tree, but it might have you dancing around the kitchen. The hook will show you no mercy, mild or otherwise!
SHOUN SHOUN – Did I Play Games
Bristol’s Shoun Shoun have been consistently putting out original and impressive tracks for some time. So I was genuinely surprised when Annette Becker, the band’s Berlin-born leader and principal writer, told me they had never made the Fresh Faves, despite appearing in the Listening Post a few times. Well they have now and deservedly so. Prior to and post-lockdown, they have maintained a busy schedule of live appearances and they have a tour lined up in 2022 that stretches from the South Coast of England through the West Country, into Wales and up to the West Midlands. Meanwhile they continue to get plenty of airplay from internet radio as well as appearances on BBC 6 Music and BBC West.
Did I Play Games was a track that grabbed me on first listen when it came into Fresh On The Net. The verses simmer and seethe, the guitars holding back over tough beat and bassline while the synth plays a staccato figure. Annette’s voice is quiet at first but there is a dark, daunting aura and, as the chorus comes, they explode into action with a sound that could be the Banshees going head to head with Throwing Muses while LA Witch add chops. It isn’t quite 12 drummers drumming or even 11 pipers piping, but they make a big big noise when they get going all the same.
In a previous blog review of a Shoun Shoun track, I talked about the notion that Annette was leading her band of renegades through the dark forest. There is always that sense of comradeship about the intimate way they combine their roles to create something impenetrable and tough yet capable of colourful pyrotechnics in their most climatic moments. Did I Play Games might just be their best example of this idea yet. Exciting times ahead for sure.
THE DEEP BLUE – Cotton White Linen
The Deep Blue describe themselves as an “Indie Girl Band from Manchester and beyond”. They are three young women making sparkling Indie-Folk with picking guitars and goose-bumping vocal harmonies that invite obvious comparisons with The Staves but their sound is distinct enough to dismiss anything more than passing similarities. There are shades of I SEE RIVERS too. But for a trio who only released their debut EP Taking On Water a few weeks ago, they have wasted no time developing a degree of individuality and sophistication that bodes well for the immediate future.
Cotton White Linen is their song about lockdown and time spent “tangled in cotton white linen”. It is a triplet-time track that keeps the instrumental backdrop minimal and simple save for the fact that there is nothing simple about executing such intricate guitar picking so perfectly. Their harmonies dominate from the outset, and there are lovely contrasts between fluid counterpoint and the full-on attack when their three voices create a rhythmic unison. Not entirely unlike another recent Fave by the Leeds duo Sunflower Thieves, this is life-affirming Indie-Folk to warm the cockles as you watch those chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Stunning, stirring and stupendously good!
THE ELEPHANT TREES – Bricks & Mortar (B&M)
Compared by Musical Tapas to “Florence if the machine behind her was Biffy Clyro”. The Elephant Trees hail from Manchester and say they have become a symbol of remembering your roots while exploring who you really are. Or words to that effect anyway. They also have a tour impending in February and March that will see them play seven of the UK’s biggest cities including London, Birmingham and Glasgow. They are getting amongst it and have some cool looking merch on sale too.
Bricks And Mortar is intense from the outset. The whispered voices over tribal-sounding beat appear sporadically before the female lead vocal takes over and immediately holds centre stage as staccato guitar prods and pokes. As the track develops, the guitar blossoms into full arpeggios, cymbals shimmer and enigmatic synth drifts into the mix. There is a semi-electronic element contrasting their Alt Rock sensibilities. As it all shifts up a level and the ethereal backing vocals contrast the full-on upper register lead voice, it feels like we have arrived at a dramatic, epic conclusion. But then suddenly it all fades back into just voice and drums and the song ends pretty much as it started. A really full-blooded and imaginative work. Jingle all the way.
THE HAPPY SOMETHINGS – Doctor Lollipop
The Happy Somethings, from the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire borders, are such frequent Fresh Faves that they must have their own [metaphorical] tankards behind the Fresh On The Net bar! The trio keep their identities a closely guarded secret, going by the individual names of Happy, Jolly and Joy and presenting their puppets in all photos and videos, even when talking on BBC Introducing in the East Midlands recently. In so doing, they have created an additional aura of cool to go with their unique sound and vibrant character.
It has been an amazing couple of years for the Happy Somethings. 2021 saw them consolidate their four Thinking Is Free EPs (i.e. Parts 1 – 4) into an album of the same name including four new tracks. It also saw Golden Believers Records releasing their music and the more recent Lollipop Licks EP was another landmark and contained the original version from which this track is a remix. More about that in a moment but first, I have to say that, as well as gathering a well-deserved reputation across independent grassroots music for their consistently high standards and instantly recognisable Alt Pop sound, they are unselfishly and unrelentingly supportive towards their fellow artists and others involved in the independent music community. In that respect alone, other aspiring artists could learn an awful lot from the way The Happy Somethings conduct themselves.
Now to the song Dr Lollipop. What is it about, I hear you ask? Well, erm, it is actually about me! Lol! Well, to be precise, it is about a specific and short period in my young life when, through a series of circumstances, I ended living in a sleepy seaside town in South Devon where, by a series of circumstances, two members of the Happy Somethings also ended up some time later. The chances of this were pretty slim! So, intrigued by my tale which involved, among other things, working as a lollipop man at the local High School (where the band Muse were students), they wrote this song. They must have listened well to my story because the lyrics are an uncannily accurate summary of my tale and my mindset! I wasn’t a Doctor when I lived there of course. But anyway, most important is that this is a shimmering, uptempo and light-textured slice of tuneful, imaginative Alt Pop with trademark vocal harmonies and instrumental interplay. The original was a delight but this remix is even better. And as the doctor in the title, I prescribe having yourselves a merry little Christmas wiggle to this fantastic track.
THE SHINING TONGUES – Rice
London band The Shining Tongues is “… the new project from Daniel Knowler and Sam Mclaughlin of The Infinite Three, with a revolving cast of fellow noisemakers”. October saw the release of their debut album Milk Of God and titles providing rave reviews include New York Music Daily and Spill Magazine. They have also been busy assembling a band in readiness to get out and gig. The impression is that these guys are well-connected and they appear to be able to call upon some fine musicians to augment their live sound.
Rice kicks off like Echo & The Bunnymen on Villers Terrace (or is it Wah! Heat on Don’t Step On The Cracks?). Vocals remind me a little of Kurt Vile; low register with a sardonic air. A little of Lou Reed too. The chorus is strong, and the lyrics are intriguing. Food and liquids as metaphors, but I am not entirely sure what for. It drives along with a slightly punky energy while the lead guitar is reverberant and semi-psychedelic. All revolves around a simple, mainly two-chord structure. A sizzling plate of slow-burning energy in the bleak mid-winter. No stuffing required.
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.