Artists at a glance
DOPESICKFLY & KAREN DUNBAR
ORO SWIMMING HOUR
Crikey, Christmas is coming at us with a vengeance and the weather feels like a frosty February. So, as I sit shivering in the midst of the power struggle between the icy cold climate and our cautiously used central heating, I am hoping for some new music warmth. Phew, Fresh Faves to the rescue – another ten top tunes chosen by our ever-discerning readers. Coffee’s poured. It is actually snowing and settling big time outside! So against that surreal backdrop, it is time to hit play and here we go.
ANDREW VAN GARRATT – Certain Way
Leicester’s Andrew Van Garratt is a former member of the Atlantic-signed No Hope in New Jersey and a familiar name to Fresh On The Net readers. His music has been used in adverts and on TV and he has performed all over the world. A prolific songwriter who submits tracks most weeks, he was an Eclectic Pick not long ago and I am sure he has been a Fave in the past too. He has also had BBC Introducing in the East Midlands support in the past week for this song.
My long-time close friend, fellow musician and reviews writer Paul F Cook noted, when voting for this track at the Listening Post, that “… the chord progressions keep you on your toes” and I concur. Andrew is a highly accomplished musician and he utilises his knowledge well to come up with a chord construction full of imagination and surprises. The song is melodic and breezes along at a mid-tempo pace with trademark AVG harmonies adorning the main vocal. Catchy, inventive and expertly executed.
CASUAL DRAG – Something Good
Edinburgh’s Casual Drag are a band with a [probably intentionally] delightful double entendre of a name. And they have not been messing about in the post-pandemic period. They are fresh from taking over their city’s Underground Sounds playlist, getting some serious online media attention, playing the Hidden Door festival and picking up airplay. They are also previous Fresh Faves.
Something Good kicks off with a classic sounding guitar riff that sits somewhere between sixties spy theme and nineties Britpop before the full band crashes into action. Against this backdrop, the male vocal is part-sung, part-spoken with a swaggering, sneering aura that provides a cool contrast to the power-driven bass and drums and inventive guitar. The guitar playing a III – V – VI♭ chord pattern over root bass reminds me a little of early Banshees although that is the only notable similarity. This is more Yard Act meets Fontaines DC while Life add chops. All delivered with an extra large side of rocking energy.
CODY PEPPER – Make A Wish
London-based Cody Pepper has managed to hit the Faves with a debut single which is no mean feat. Plastic Mag explains that Cody is the alias of French artist Pauline Janier who is lead vocalist with Zebrah, and Make A Wish sees her working with Belgian musician Basile Lacroix-Boettcher. I see she has also worked with experimental artist Anrimeal who played a fantastic set at one of my regular live events in 2021. Cody Pepper has been on the Musosoup playlist, received support from BBC Introducing in the South East and has been regularly gigging with just voice and guitar.
Make A Wish has deep squelchy sounds driving it along, initially with Pauline semi-whispering the hook before suddenly we get syncopated synth chords, improvised trombone (courtesy of Marius) and then some frantic string play (not sure if this is violin or viola). The vocals only appear periodically to repeat the spoken word hook. Otherwise it is a fluid series of highly contrasting instrumental events, sometimes with voice singing wordlessly and low in the mix. The pair cite the likes of FKA Twigs, Coucou Chloe and PVA in terms of the kind of sonic world they are aiming for. The second of those is the easiest to hear as a reference point in the deep stabbing synths that underpin Make A Wish. Certainly it is a refreshingly individual and adventurous track; one that sounds like it was a lot of fun to make.
DOPESICKFLY & KAREN DUNBAR – We Are One
Named apparently as “Capital FM One To Watch” (an amazing achievement since Capital only play current and former chart music 24-7 most of the time), Glasgow-based DopeSickFly describe themselves, not unreasonably, as a “… musically diverse, lyrically explosive funk rock hybrid”. They have an impressive track record of support slots including Kool & The Gang, Sugar Hill Gang and various others and have recorded with some big name producers. They have been dubbed “the Scottish Anderson Paak” by no less than BBC Introducing in Scotland. Karen Dunbar is Scottish and has accomplished careers in DJing, Comedy and Acting. She is also an iconic figure on the LGBTQ+ scene.
The song is in an uptempo, syncopated hybrid of Soul, Latin, Folk and Funk flavours. It is described simply as “World” on Dopesickfly’s Soundcloud page. The picking guitar chords and arpeggios that drive the song along sit tight against busy bass, keys, percussion and drums while the male vocalist’s distinct and passionate performance reminds me a little of Seal with a hint of Lenny Kravitz and Gregory Porter. The harmonies are rich and boost an appealing chorus. Karen’s spoken word intervention is particularly intriguing. A call for unity, I am not sure whether it is a slight riposte to nationalist sentiments, but it may be that the references to no small island surviving alone and being one big nation are just metaphors for individual isolationism and I am reading too much into the choice of words. The most important information you need is that this is a really good quality track and one with an arguably timeless aura.
DRANG – Speak
Described as “Producers from South London”, Drang were Fresh Faves as long ago as 2018. Their Instagram account is called Drang Film Club and notes their love of movies, which explains a lot given the filmic nature of this track. They have had airplay from our own Tom Robinson when he was standing in for Marc Riley on his weekday evening show on BBC Radio 6 Music. He also played them on the BBC Music Introducing Mixtape Show, and they were in the Eclectic Picks early in 2022.
Speak has a reverb-soaked female spoken word track repeating phrases, in particular “I didn’t have a voice to speak” against a slowish paced instrumental track. it sounds somewhat like the soundtrack to a dark, alternative movie. Loud crisp drum programme meets repeating synth against which the harmonic changes are fluid and sounds see-saw in and out of the mix. The track has a real and growing intensity, helped by an underlying sense of danger and the ghostliness of the spoken word with its past tense narrative. Compelling listening.
HAPPY SCIENCE – Barbiturates
North London collective Happy Science say they are “… an alternative to alternative rock”, which is an interesting claim. Their influences extend well beyond music and include political art, protest and film noir. They are also described as not a conventional band but a mix of engineers and multi-instrumentalist songwriters. That is especially surprising given the sound of Barbiturates, but I will come back to that point. They do also cite some influences that are less of a surprise such as Sonic Youth, Velvet Undergound, The Pixies and several stalwarts of the German Electronic and “Krautrock” era. They have been picking up favourable blog and journal reviews plus support from new music stalwart Shell Zenner on Amazing Radio. They were Fresh Faves in February 2022 when fellow mod Louise Toal described their sound as “… gritty, muddy, rough around the edges and deliciously noisy”. You can find plenty of merch on their website too.
Alternative to it or not, their Soundcloud page rightly describes Barbiturates as Alternative Rock. The individual note-playing and stabby offbeat chords in the guitar have shades of Gang of Four while the sardonic spoken word drive of the vocals echoes The Fall. The chorus, with multiple unison voices, is instantly infectious and turns up the dynamics on an already relatively raucous track. There is a lo-fi aspect to their sound but one that plays off against loud, punchy energy and collectively instinctive ears for melody.
JAKE MORLEY – Captured
London-born singer-songwriter Jake Morley is getting himself out there judging by the geographical spread of live dates listed on his website. He also has an extensive recorded music catalogue stretching back to 2008. He was a Fresh Fave as long ago as 2015, and his track record takes in airplay across BBC nationals, headline tours in the USA, Canada and UK plus a residency at legendary London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. He has also “swapped songs” with Michael Kiwanuka and played support slots for Ed Sheeran, They Might Be Giants and various others.
Captured wins the prize for the most intriguing lyric of the week. It appears to tell the story of being relentlessly pressured into joining some form of well-funded religious cult in California and being kept as a perennial prisoner both in mind and body with only vague memories of what life was like before being brainwashed in captivity. I hope, for his sake, that this is all purely imagined and isn’t based on anyone he knows well (or knew well). The arrangement is deliciously cinematic in a slowish 6/8 time signature with sugary romantic strings playing with a tonne of vibrato, lush piano chords and the aura of a song from a classic movie soundtrack. He sings it with a clear, agile voice and an inevitable large portion of melancholy. This takes skill and imagination to pull off.
JOE ADHEMAR – Put It All Back
Londoner Joe Adhemar is a versatile singer-songwriter who has topped the “Cool Top 20”. A pilot by trade but one who also grew up learning and playing music, Joe has had his fingers in a lot of pies, musically speaking, and he lists an array of influences that reflect his eclectic approach (from Peter Gabriel, Blue Nile and Elbow through to Nine Inch Nails and Chemical Brothers with various stops in-between). He also published a blog post a few days ago with his highlights of 2022, one of which was being tweeted by Tom Robinson about a satirical song he co-wrote predicting the demise of a certain former PM’s career. It also included some good quality airplay, coverage in Louder Than War and other things. So it’s been a positive year all round.
Put It All Back is in a slow triplet time, but punctuated by a swinging, rocking movement, almost like a form of lullaby. Piano dominates the instrumental backdrop, playing suspended and related chords while his vocal begins in lower register, reflective and rueful with a lovely sliding figure in the hook. The second half of the track builds around a repeated backing vocal figure and an insistent melody that carries it to a satisfying conclusion. I now can’t get the melody out of my head!
ORO SWIMMING HOUR – Cold Tangerina
Bristol duo Oro Swimming Hour have released three albums to date and clearly enjoy making music for their own pleasure as much as anything else. They have been quietly building a following though and even have vinyl stocked in record stores in Japan, They have also had some positive coverage from online media and have played some live shows.
Cold Tangerina is actually at least two years old, judging by when it was posted on Soundcloud. The song is a slowish Alt Pop track with strummed and jangling guitars, male vocals, sometimes doubled, octavised or harmonised and melancholy clarinet. All the melodies are expressive and touching. Shades of Willie J Healey in a jam with The June Brides while Gengahr add flavours. Only shades, mind. The production is quite lo-fi but that suits their organic, thoughtful songwriting style. A track that tugs at the heartstrings snd keeps the focus on those ingredients that bring out its rich flavours.
STRANGE FLESH – Croydon Fox
Formerly known as The Casual Sexists, Strange Flesh are based in Brooklyn, New York although, thanks to an online chat I had with them a few days ago ahead of them being on my radio show, I discovered that their vocalist is originally from South London, which also explains her interest in the story behind this song. They had their first radio play in the Spring but they clearly have a decent following and are playing some good venues.
Croydon Fox is inspired by a news story from a few years ago when a number of cats kept turning up savagely killed in Croydon and, at first, fingers began to be pointed at certain local people before it was established that the serial killer in question was, in fact, a fox! The mood of the track is dark but humorous. It has an unsettling feel with its electronic beat, post-industrial sounds and buzzes, echoes and squelches accompanying the semi-whispered female spoken word vocal which takes on the part of the predatory fox while her male counterpart pops up periodically stating “my favourite time of day is night”. Daunting and dystopian but with a sense of fun, this epitomises the idea of a track being both a musical piece and a work of art.
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.