Artists at a glance
THIS ELEGANT GULL
Welcome back and happy new year everyone. Yes it’s me again! I was a late stand-in just before our Xmas/New Year hiatus so please believe me when I say I am not deliberately hogging the reviews! At least it didn’t take me 25 minutes to realise I was writing them and not attending an official briefing! Once again our discerning readers have voted for ten great tracks that reinforce how much talent is out there. In a time when our leaders are cooking up a proper Eton Mess with political careers going down faster than English Test wickets, we give thanks for the vibrant grassroots music community; a ‘great exhibition’ worth considerably more than the price of a decorating job to see and hear.
ANNIE DRESSNER – Out In The Cold
UK-based American singer-songwriter Annie Dressner has been a favourite with our readers for some time and, like a former government adviser with a score to settle, she keeps coming back with more powerful ammunition! Currently on tour with David Ford, she has been building a firm following over several years for her Folk-infused story-telling songwriting style and appealing vocals. She has had rave reviews in Green Note and Cambridge Junction (plus my own Trust The Doc blog) and strong support from Folk Radio, Exile FM’s Monday Night Ride Out (with Ming & Jon) and BBC Radio 6 Music to name a few.
Out In The Cold begins with long chords before picking guitar prompts the vocals to enter the fray. The melody is instantly engaging, almost a little seasonal in feel, a vibe emphasised by Annie’s distinct and alluring voice and the contrast between tracked unison and harmonies in thirds and fourths. The chord structure is simple but perfect for the mood of the song which is laid back but nonetheless quite anthemic. Her best yet? Quite possibly. This is really quite lovely.
DENUO – Shibuya
Denuo is Tom Mason from North Wales who has an album out called Through Life that includes a bunch of guest musicians. He has been named by no less than Rough Trade as a hot tip for 2022 and has been gigging with his band around Wales, the North West and West Midlands over the second half of 2021, including an appearance at Focus Wales. In short, Tom is notching up the accolades more frequently than No 10 can throw lockdown parties. 2022 promises to be a busy year for him.
Shibuya is uptempo and has an epic pop feel with cute synth melody giving way to Tom’s gentle but strong tenor range voice, reinforced by some sweet harmonies. As more sounds creep into the mix, his voice floats and flutters on a wave of reverberant synths and a driving beat that stops midway to announce a mid-section of enigmatic legato tones. Heartwarming and melodic, a song in which the interplay between vocals and synth counter-melodies really lifts the whole experience.
ESSLEMONT – No Photographs Of Me Exist
Where Esslemont hail from appears to be something of a secret, but I can tell you they have been picking up some useful airplay including the iconic In the Moog Show with Chris Watts on NCCR as well as shows on Blue Star Radio, Tak Tent, Lonely Oak and others. A bit of detective work also reveals they are from somewhere in Scotland.
No Photographs Of Me Exist, as well as being what a beleaguered Prince might wish were the case, is a thoughtful track. The intro consists of gradually emerging synth chords, fortified by warm piano and growling low keyboard tones, all patiently building a dreamy, evocative soundscape. Eventually sampled spoken word phrases take centre stage while the beat that underpins it is like a gentle Drum’n’Bass. It ends with a somewhat unexpected drum figure based around semi-militaristic triplets while the synths and voices echo and fade to nothing. All cleverly done and ultimately satisfying to hear.
MOIRA SMILEY FEAT. PIERS FACCINI AND SEAMUS EGAN – Meeting Is Over
Moira Smiley is a singer and composer whose CV includes a mouth watering list of collaborators including the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Tune-Yards, Eric Whitacre and a variety of prestigious ensembles. She has performed all over the world and has taught and led workshops at Universities and similar Institutions across the USA, Europe and the UK. Her specialism is in early music and she has developed her interest in the folk and traditional music of various regions alongside that influence. Incidentally this track was on Tom Robinson’s BBC Introducing Mixtape Show last weekend on BBC Radio 6 Music.
Meeting Is Over may sound like the text message a boozy PM receives after 25 minutes of ‘accidental’ partying but it is actually a traditional-sounding Celtic Folk-infused track in which some sumptuous organic sounds (Banjo? Mandolin? Guitar?) play a prominent role accompanying two contrasting voices; Moira’s and a husky male one. It is calming but slightly dark and the references to landing on the shores fit the mood of a song that conjures up images of dark high cliffs and lively seas. Whether in call and response or two-part harmony, the voices are captivating and the instrumental backdrop is a delight.
PUBLIC BODY – Reset My Password
Named this very week as a Bandcamp New & Notable act, Public Body are a Post-Punk quartet from Brighton which, as regular readers will know, is a town that seems to produce an endless pool of fresh musical talent. They have also been featured by Spotify on the platform’s own All New Punk playlist, so it is clearly no coincidence that they are impressing some important people. They returned from lockdown with a show at the Hope and Ruin in Brighton (where I once stumbled upon a free Penelope Isles gig shortly before they burst onto national radio), and their Flavour of Labour EP has been well received. Take note BJ: a ‘Public Body’ setting a fine example!
It is from that EP that the track Reset My Password is taken. Fast, lively and driven by contrasting guitars, busy bass and busier drums, the vocals sit somewhere between Do Nothing and Yard Act although probably less theatrical than either. More spoken than sung and treated with a cool short echo effect, the chorus is a little like The Fall fronted by a less cantankerous Mark E Smith! Bristling with energy and highly entertaining.
REALLY HEALEY – Big Sister
Matthew ‘Really’ Healey describes himself as someone who teaches and aims to write the kinds of songs he would like to hear. Hailing from Eastbourne, there is very little from him on social media, although his Twitter account has some amusing comments on recent political events! Information about Really Healey, the artist, appears to be rarer than a post-Brexit delivery driver. But he does have an album, Pensilva Passtimes, recently released on which all tracks are co-written with Michael Tourle. It has some great titles such as Waking Up With Pancakes On My Mind and Headlights & Headlice!
Big Sister is an unusual track, a conversation between two guys set to a backdrop of glissando harp, syncopated beat and piano playing major ninths, sevenths and sixths while what sound like female backing voices dip in and out with the track’s principal melody. Imagine Baz Lurhmann in a mash-up with Mantovani and The Ritchie Family, but with a strong nod to modern production values and you may be somewhere vaguely close to envisaging this track. Imaginative and slightly idyllic.
SARAH MCQUAID – The Tug Of The Moon (The St Buryan Sessions)
Cornwall-based, Spanish-born, American singer-songwriter Sarah McQuaid has to be one of the hardest working artists I know. Other than when forced to stop by COVID restrictions, she has balanced a breathtaking live schedule over the past few years, taking in much of the UK, Ireland, parts of Europe and the USA with a busy family life. Her St Buryan Session, from which this track is taken, has proved to be an apparently endless source of strong and successful material. Despite her busy schedule and considerable reputation as a much-loved artist, she still finds time to be a great supporter of her fellow artists too. Such is her generosity of spirit and warm personality. Trivia fact: When US singer-songwriter Dean Friedman was performing in the English South West a few years back, it was Sarah who he chose to perform his famous duet Lucky Stars with him on stage.
Sarah is blessed with an instantly recognisable and rich alto voice that my fellow mod Del Owusu has frequently described as “singing to my soul”. The minimal backdrop of skilfully played guitar, along with St Buryan’s acoustics, affords Sarah all the room she needs to deliver this slightly dark but reflective song with haunting, heart-tugging (sic.) grace. Like all her music, the track oozes quality and reminds us, as if we needed reminding, of her stunning talent.
STATE – Fist Bump
Described on their Soundcloud page as “veterans of many previous musical campaigns”, Bristol band State are a trio of multi-instrumentalists who cite a wide spectrum of influences including the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine and Senser. They aim to challenge conventional notions of genre. They may be a new act but they have wasted no time in picking up airplay from Frome FM’s popular Rebellious Jukebox show. They have equally wasted little time in making our fresh faves. Yet, like a royal wreck in a posh nightclub, they have barely broken a sweat! Hopefully their next move will be to expand their social media presence so they can reach a wider audience with their impressive music.
Fist Bump is driven along by a bassline that sits somewhere between Post-Punk and Rockabilly. While the guitars snarl and seethe, emphasising the drone effect of the bass, the drum track is loud, syncopated and treated with dramatic resonant effects. The vocal reminds me of Franz Ferdinand jamming with Kurt Vile. Kind of electronic Alt Rock that makes highly impactful use of dynamic contrasts and grows in intensity before signing off more gently with a chord-based piano-only figure at the end. One you will surely want to listen to again if only to answer the question: What just happened?
THIS ELEGANT GULL – It’s Hard Staring At The Darkness
Flute-playing singer, songwriter and fearless social commentator DD Shine was, if I remember rightly, 11 when she first strode onto the Fresh On The Net radar. And while it may sound about as likely as a prince at a Pizza Express party, DD already seems like a veritable veteran of Alternative Pop these days despite being in her early teens! Such is the maturity of her work, usually in collaboration with her dad. Popular with our readers as well as with BBC Introducing In The South and having appeared several times on the BBC 6 Music Introducing Mixtape with Tom, This Elegant Gull is a project that continues to surprise and always for positive reasons.
It’s Hard Staring At The Darkness demonstrates how DD continues to address real life issues in her lyrics. I may have misinterpreted the message here, but it seems to be about mental health and the sense of staring hopelessly into darkness, unable to find the door marked happiness and relief. Compared to some of TEG’s recent past tracks, this is more laidback, circumspect even and synth-driven. DD’s vocals are dreamy and almost ghostly at times, her harmonies and registral jumps adding to the otherworldliness of the track. When the softer opening leads into triplet rhythms with a loud drum track and vibrato synths, the mood is darker, more menacing. Repeated references to being ‘trapped inside your mind’ sung in almost angelic tones make this track all the more daunting and powerful. Impressive as ever.
WINACHI – Characters
Warrington/Leeds-based Winachi describe their music as “swaggering Northern tenacity spliced with smooth Californian G Funk” which seems like a pretty good shout. They have received lavish praise from some very quotable names in current music. 2022 will see them dividing their time between the North of England and Los Angeles as they continue to work with some accomplished producers.
Characters has shades of Stereo MCs in a mash with Crack Cloud and Working Mens Club while the vocoder theme recalls Lipps Inc. The beat is funky and syncopated and the octave-apart male vocals even speak to early Squeeze tracks. With so many little nuances including the high funky slur on the guitar, it comes over like a hybrid of several decades of influences. “We’re all characters of the world” he sings. Can’t really argue with that. Rounding off a strong first week back with an infectious Funk-edged fantasia.
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.