Artists at a glance
Wow, the 500th Fresh Faves. That is some milestone. Meanwhile, the British Summer clings on to its last days through gritted teeth. In the news and across social media, real life continues to feel less believable than a low budget B-Movie. And, in the world of Fresh On The Net, the new music keeps coming. This week, once again, our ever-discerning readers have picked ten top tunes from a stellar Listening Post and it is my privilege to review them. Let’s get to it then.
ANNA PANCALDI – Stay This Way
London-based singer-songwriter Anna Pancaldi has Fresh Faves pedigree stretching back to 2017. Influenced by classic writers like Joni Mitchell. Carol King and Jeff Buckley, she has been achieving some serious sync success with her music appearing in Grey’s Anatomy (trailer), Pretty Little Liars and various other TV and film titles. She has also been bagging airplay through BBC Radio 1, 2 and 6 Music and receiving support from BBC Introducing. All in all, things are going very well for Anna so look out for more news in the coming year.
Stay This Way is a brooding ballad, built around piano chords and Anna’s rich, expressive and rangey voice which takes centre stage from the opening bar. The track builds dynamically, the strong hook appearing early on and sounds joining the mix as it develops, including understated synth strings and particularly sumptuous multi-tracked vocal harmonies. Emotionally-charged and expertly performed, this is what a powerful pop ballad should sound like.
BLAIR CORON – Dancing
Glasgow’s Blair Coron has been on my radar for some while and I have blogged about him periodically including new track Dancing which I have reviewed in the latest edition of Trust The Doc (published on 30th September). He is originally from Springfield, a small village in East Fife in Scotland. His Soundcloud blurb says his ‘… quiet and intimate music blends modern classical, story-telling and traditional melodies with themes of nature, people, time and place’. He has been commissioned by and worked with the likes of Edinburgh University, The National Trust of Scotland and The School of Scottish Studies and he has had funding from Creative Scotland.
Dancing evolves from quiet beginnings with subtly altering note patterns in triplet time that suggest a post-minimalist influence. He is also a skilled melodist who understands how to utilise the timbres of the piano without feeling the need to rise above moderate dynamic levels. This is lovingly crafted, engaging and soothing music with a quietly hypnotic undercurrent.
DEBRIS DISCS – Post War Plans
James Eary is the Derbyshire-based artist Debris Discs and he is someone whose music I have been playing on my radio show and blogging about for several years. In more recent times, he has become a fellow Fresh On The Net moderator. Debris Discs has always been about combining sophisticated Synthpop sensibilities with intelligent, observational lyrics that often adopt an historic theme, also reflected in his video content.
Post War Plans has all the Debris Discs trademarks. Bright, cinematic synths bring melodic and harmonic themes that are instantly attention-grabbing while James’s distinctive and yearning voice delivers an engaging melody. He leads us into a particularly spine-tingling hook that is both unexpected and beautifully engineered as is the striking instrumental mid-section. An aural delight from start to finish.
DICTATOR – Enough Is Enough
Dictator are Edinburgh’s Michael, Zach, Joe and Allen who have teamed up to create an eclectic blend of ‘… inventive indie licks, electrifying electronics and perfectly prodigious pop grooves’! They have had plaudits from such luminaries as Richard Carylye, Ian Rankin and Phil McTaggart and have played supports for The Fratellis, The Reytons and others. They have won awards and, in 2021, Dictator signed with Blackhall Records, also based in the Scottish Capital. Expect exciting news soon then.
In the meantime we have Enough Is Enough, a sentiment most of us have little problem in relating to these days! It has a shuffling beat while the synths take on a cinematic feel and the vocal is lively and full of appealing character. The atmosphere of the song is quite epic, as if Future Islands and Everything Everything came together with a spoonful of The Farm’s optimistic Pop vision. Spirited, inventive and full of positive energy.
DILETTANTE – Stone
Francesca Pidgeon, from the North of England, is Dilettante. She is a returning Fresh Fave who has also had support from BBC Introducing in West Yorkshire and was on our own Tom Robinson’s BBC Radio 6 Music show this very morning with this very song. Francesca is also a multi-instrumentalist and, in addition to being a guitarist and singer, she somewhat impressively taught herself to play saxophone, clarinet and piano, purchasing a loop pedal during lockdown in order to be able to enjoy her ever-expanding talents without the risk of human contact. These days she is joined by an expert cast of Aaron Collins-Wood (Bass Guitar), Jack Mee (Drums) and Rachel Rimmer (Vocals & Guitar).
So to the song. Stone starts off with the vocal accompanied by just drums and bass before short synth arpeggios join in. From there the instrumental ideas just keep coming. There is a humorous element to the vocals but it is also teasingly funky in a St Vincent meets NZCA Lines kind of way. The inventiveness, fluidity of ideas and light-textured funkiness also bring to mind Prince jamming with Japanese Breakfast. All in all, this is a great track, full of cleverly nuanced changes and a demonstrable inter-band chemistry.
FLOORKIN – Cul-De-Sacs
Described by BBC Radio 3’s Corey Mwamba as ‘an incredibly rich and nuanced offering of music’, experimental ambient act Floorkin appear to be keeping up a busy schedule of pretty impressive looking live shows. They have also been picking up strong radio support and getting out and about across a wide geographic region.
Cul De Sacs is essentially electronic and ambient with a looped synth chord, syncopated beat and various keyboard timbres adding to the melting pot of ethereal sounds while ambient noises are deployed here and there too. The melody is played by what could be a sax put through a filter, sweeping in smartly and effectively. It is a little trippy, a little cinematic and grabs me by the ears from the outset. The slowed down synth figure playing over the deconstructing outro is a lovely final touch too.
IMMY – Breathe It In
Immy lists their location on Soundcloud as The Moon, Aruba! With no links or blurb on the page, Immy is somewhat enigmatic. Consequently it took some digging to find out much about them although there is a YouTube channel and Spotify account which describes Immy as ‘… queer-as-folk Cornwall to Bristol – softie rock’.
Breathe It In blends choppy guitar chords in a ‘I major – VI minor’ pattern with lead guitar melodies and an energetic vocal performance, fortified by harmonies. There are shades of Willie J Healey in a mash with Sports Team while The Magic Gang bring chops. The overall feel is organic and instinctive Alt Pop. The chorus is particularly strong and the dynamic and timbral contrasts add to the energy and vibe of the track.
KOHLA – Heavenly
Ah, what can I say about Rachel Alice Johnson aka Kohla? She has been on my radar for close to five years since she was originally signed by Last Night From Glasgow. In the time since, Rachel has branched out on her own, boosted by support from Creative Scotland and Help Musicians UK, gathering a growing following for her passionate yet fragile soul-infused style. I reviewed her new album Romance in the last edition of my Trust The Doc blog and have been writing about her and playing her music on my radio show for some time. The signs are positive for Kohla to enjoy her widest success to date as we head towards another new year.
Heavenly bears all the hallmarks of a great Kohla track. From the outset, we have Rachel’s delicate but deceptively strong voice accompanied by mellow strings and single piano chords. Her style here is almost classical and quite pure in the way she controls the fluency of her vocal noteplay. It only lasts just less than a minute and a half but, in that time, she achieves a dynamic intensity and a beautiful, otherworldly vocal befitting of the song’s title. Check out the rest of the album too. She is a unique and impressive talent.
N-FUSION – International Connection
N-Fusion say they ‘… spread melodies from Bristol to Cali’ and they certainly appear to be getting airplay on both sides of the pond including BBC Radio Bristol. They have also been picking up the reviews with Moneyboxing revealing that they are a collaboration between LA-based rapper and beatmaker Haph Breed and Bristol-based instrumentalist and producer Claire Sibley.
International Connection also features Kirris Riviere on a track that is essentially Old Skool Hip Hop but with so much going on that it has a semi-soundtrack-like aura. The reverberant congas and nineties-style piano chords sit well against the rhythmically free-flowing rap style that has shades of De La Soul in a jam with Nelly while Warren G brings chops. Sounds echo around the mix, adding melodic content to the piece. Clever switching up and down of key subtly adds to the track’s momentum. The saxophone then becomes the icing on a very appealing cake.
SARAH BUCKLEY – Puppet Show
From Cork in Ireland, singer-songwriter Sarah Buckley has been building her reputation as a live performer, opening for some accomplished names in venues around Ireland. Her collaborators include Darragh Nolan (Ailbhe Reddy) and Karl Odlum among others. Inspired by ‘… the world class lyricism of Alex Turner (Arctic Monkeys), the introspective songwriting of Matt Berninger (The National) and the uncompromising authenticity of Julia Jacklin’, we can see how her edgy Alt-Folk style has developed. In an interview with Behind The Music she revealed that she also lists Leonard Cohen among her influences. The new single has already received a rave review in Ireland’s leading music journal Hot Press.
That single is, of course, Puppet Show. It is, in essence, a post-breakup song that considers what little chance she was given in a tumultuous relationship. This is set to a buoyant beat and choppy acoustic guitar chords while Sarah’s distinctive, expressive vocal dominates from the opening bar. Clever use of double tracking on certain lines and subtle contributions from other sounds (including quiet lead guitar figures) add to the nuanced development of the track while a strong melody and quiet emotional intensity make this compelling listening. Goose-bumping.
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.
Anna Pancaldi photo by Laura Rhodes