Artists at a glance
ELECTRO DUB TANGO
HONEY & THE BEAR
THE PALE WHITE
THE YOUTH PLAY
AAYUSHI – Beach Pockets
Birmingham-based Aayushi Jain has already graced the Fresh Faves several times before with her insightful, reflective sound and vulnerable lyrics and Beach Pockets provides a delightfully dreamy start to the Top Ten this week.
It’s easy to visualise Aayushi strolling down a foam-flecked shoreline, warmed by the golden autumnal sun and lost in thought about song lyrics, distractedly picking up the little calcium carbonate treasures to fill her cardigan pockets as she wanders.
There’s some beautiful imagery in the lyrics alluding to the flotsam and jetsam she’s collected from the shoreline:
Oh yes I cannot count
Love is treasure underground
Oh wishing well
Let your lovers climb
The staircase of your spiral shell
Been so long since I have let my tongue sing the song
My feet find the way
My love find today I’m moving on
Instrumentation in the track is delicate and unintrusive, providing a steady beat and just allowing the soothing vocals to carry the song. This track is the equivalent of a mug of steaming hot chocolate and a snuggly blanket — restorative and comforting
You can catch Aayushi on tour in the Midlands over the next week or two, rounding off a summer of touring across the UK. This young lady is destined for bigger stages soon I feel.
AGBEKO – Amber Tongues
The top ten Fresh Faves are a little like your own children. You’re not supposed to have a favourite. But, as every parent won’t openly admit…
Powering out of Manchester on the Afro-Beat Express comes Agbeko…and I’m delighted to be able to review this popular choice, as it was my own personal favourite (sshhh, don’t tell the others!) this week.
Amber Tongues starts with a particularly indignant Saxophone honking like an angry goose (courtesy of Jamie Stockbridge) and doing its best Vuvuzela impersonation, whilst the percussionist takes it upon himself to beat seven shades of shinola out of a cowbell, like a frustrated blacksmith, joined by some thumping tubs and a repeated cascading crescendo of excited Kuti-esque staccato horns. A definite statement of intent. A brief pause and then Amber Kuti’s eloquent jazz tinged vocals lift off, soaring gracefully above the clatter below, like an eagle over a busy watering hole, offering a brief respite from the squabbling instruments below. The intensity builds relentlessly, the temperature rises until it ignites James Girlin’s frenzied guitar, which buzzes like a nest of angry hornets, bringing the whole thing to a sizzling, exhausted discordant finale. Exciting, infectious, marvellous!
I’d like to get some insight into the lyrics, as the lines about ‘building funeral pyres and piling the bodies high / what remains is a list of names’ is pretty grim and sadly could apply to many countries in this troubled world right now.
Agbeko are an eleven (yep, count them!) piece from Manchester, combining Afrobeat, jazz, funk and psychedelic squall into their spirited, politically charged sound. A band that needs to be experienced live, if reviews are anything to go by – their gigs sound like a total party!
Amber Tongues is taken from their new album There Must Be Another Way, due for release on November 3rd – available as a limited vinyl release from their Bandcamp page for all you vinyl junkies out there (yes, I mean you, Lousie Toal). They’re also in the middle of releasing an educational app to allow children to interact and make music with the band directly, which means I know what I’ll be asking for Xmas!
ELECTRO DUB TANGO – Alegria
A true story: Many decades ago I traveled around the good ol’ US of A by Amtrak, from the warmth of the West Coast, through the arid border towns of the Midwest to the steamy Louisiana Bayou, up to a sub-zero Chicago (bad move!) and back across to the Pacific Northwest. Some four months of traveling. And at every point that I stepped off that train, no matter where I was in that vast continent, a six-piece Peruvian Pan pipe band would magically appear within 15ft of me without fail. I’d walk out the doors of the station and there they were, on the town square, sporting Alpaca wool Fedoras and ponchos, merrily puffing away on their pipes and whistles with gusto. My own personal Andean musical stalkers. It got so comically frequent that I could hear those lilting melodies in my sleep, backed by the constant clatter of the train tracks. By the time I hit Seattle, I’d developed a nervous twitch if I so much as heard someone just blowing across the neck of an open beer bottle in a bar. They’re probably responsible for my love of Latin and South American music, and also my irrational fear of anyone sporting a fedora and carrying a panpipe – a frequent occurrence here on the North Essex marshlands.
Alegria: Q’Uchu takes me straight back to those Amtrakking days, although the El Condor Pasa paranoia is now replaced with delight at this joyful song. Electric Dub Tango is actually New York-based artist Jimena Fama, originally from Buenos Aires, and Alegria: Q’Uchu is taken from her latest album, inspired by a recent trip she took to Purmamarca, a small town in the North of Argentina which is apparently ‘surrounded by amazing red mountains filled with colors, excellent music all around and lovely people’. So definitely not the North Essex marshlands.
In fact this track instantly transports you straight into the vibrant, snow capped heart of Patagonia with its pipes, handclap percussion and bright bouncing beat. I’m instantly picturing cavorting Guanacos (look ‘em up) and cool Gauchos, it really couldn’t sound any more traditionally South American. I’m anticipating this soundtracking a BBC documentary about Camelids of the Andes.
Jimena is a composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist. She releases music perhaps a little confusingly as both Electric Dub Tango and under her own name (which explains why it took me 20 minutes of searching to find her in the original list of 200!). She’s already featured in the Fresh Faves, and has received airplay from Mr Robinson himself on his BBC Introducing and 6 Music show. Purmamarca is available to order from her excellent website (we moderators love an excellent website), as well as the usual streaming platforms and stores.
FARAH AUDHALI – Favourite
Favourite swings the Fresh Faves towards a more polished club sound as we lock into a solid groove, courtesy of Farah Audhali & Blue Lab Beats, who help lay down the err… beats here. Favourite is a great combination of Farah’s confident, smoky R&B / Neo Soul-tinged vocals fused with the jazztronica sound of the Blue Lab boys.
Production on this is excellent, it’s punchy and glossy. Favourite is a salacious and sleek little number – I can imagine someone like J-Lo recording this, and I don’t think the end results would be any slicker or more impressive. Favourite could well be your new favourite…
There’s not too much I can tell you about Farah herself. She lives in London and has an Instagram page, but I can’t find any background information other than she’s been recording since she was 19 and has just signed to Ferocious Songs Publishing.
HONEY & THE BEAR – Over Land Over Sea
This song has whistling in it. I like whistling. I have a Spotify playlist dedicated to songs with whistling in them. This song is now in that playlist. I like this song.
OK, enough of the Brick Tamland inspired flippancy. Over Land Over Sea was inspired by the Garrett Long Shop engineering Works in Leiston, Suffolk (nice place, check out the Abbey!). The company used to build traction engines that, when sent overseas for delivery, would have a ‘living van’ towed behind them for the driver to live in whilst en-route, on a journey that could take months or even years. The problem was, that once delivered, there was nothing left to pull said living van so the driver would have to make his way home by his own means, which often meant a lot of walking. The modern equivalent would be those poor guys you see thumbing a lift in the pouring rain, having dropped off a vehicle bought from an online car supermarket to the new owner some 500 miles away…
Over Land Over Sea was an extremely popular track with the voters and another track that went straight into my picks this week from the main list, and not just for the whistling! I love the clever use of cymbals to discreetly mimic the crashing of waves, the rolling fingerpicking on the guitar and the delicious haunting honey-laden harmonies that lure you in.
Honey & The Bear is comprised of Suffolk based songwriters Jon Hart (guitar, bass, bouzouki and presumably the Bear in the duo) and Lucy Hart (guitar, ukulele, bass, banjo, mandolin & percussion), who are often joined on-stage by band guests Evan Carson (percussion) and Toby Shaer (fiddle / flutes / whistles) who also feature on both Honey & The Bear studio albums.
MEGAN WYN – Familiar Faces
Familiar Faces has that driving beat and classic Alt-Rock sound that instantly conjures images of open top cruisers on American highways – this is the sound of Coke classic, black leather jackets and Ray-Bans. It’s amazingly polished, with as much attention paid to the production as the song itself. Megan’s voice has an emotive strength and range that is more than a match in terms of power to the chiming guitars and thundering drums behind her.
Megan says of the track “Familiar Faces was written at the start of summer after breaking off a situationship with someone who let jealousy and other people come between us. It’s a bittersweet song about the love you have for this person, but the angst and anger that comes with jealousy ruining something that could have been great.”
Megan Wyn hails from the Isle of Anglesey and is now based in Manchester. She has a serious work ethic, with a huge number of live gigs under her belt already including appearances at The Great Escape, the Isle of White Festival and Truck Festival. She’s been championed by Gary Crowley on BBC London and by Adam Walton (top man!) and Huw Stephens on BBC Radio Wales. Oh, and she’s 18 years old!!
SECRET RIVALS – Slow Learner
Secret Rivals are our Punky treat for this week — shouty dual vocals, spiky angular hooks that you could lose an eye on and attitudes to match. OK, the ‘I know’ line instantly has me thinking of The Kooks’ Naive but there’s really no similarity apart from the words themselves – that’s just my brain making connections that aren’t there. In fact the stabbing dancing guitar lines owe more to the likes of Bloc Party. This is the kind of track that will get the mosh pit buzzing at the front of stage, it’s got a real stop / start energy that just gets your head nodding
It seems that Slow Learner and the Start Fires EP it’s from were originally released in 2011 and this is a remastered version to celebrate the band’s return after a decade or so of being AWOL. The EP previously received attention back in the day from both Tom and Lammo on BBC Radio 6 Music as well as BBC Introducing.
Secret Rivals are an Oxford four-piece describing themselves as Indie Goth Popsters. They are on Instagram, but I’ve struggled to find out any recent news about them apart from the re-issuing of this EP and the release of a new EP in September — it would be nice to have some more information about where they’ve been and why they’ve returned. It’ll be interesting to see how the decade away will have changed their musical palette.
THE PALE WHITE – Taste The Sun
Taste The Sun is one of those tracks that instantly gets you racking your brain for ‘where have I heard this before?’ That’s not a criticism or an accusation of plagiarism in any way, it’s just the track is so darn familiar and accessible that it sounds like it’s already in my record collection. And it’s been driving me slightly nuts for several days! This went straight into my picks the first time I heard it — who can resist Beatle-esque layered harmonies and wonky Strawberry Fields / Moody Blues Mellotron keys. But the track is so much more. Yes, there’s a certain Gallagher tinge to the vocals in places (no offence meant, Adam), but I’m also hearing hints of Nirvana (in their more restrained brooding moments) and even Kashmir-era Led Zep in the latter half of the track, as it builds in kaleidoscopic behemoth layers. It’s a track that provides more and more as you dissect it with repeated listens. A clever trick, to produce a song so instantly familiar yet so rewardingly fresh!
Despite their huge sound, The Pale White are a trio, hailing from Newcastle. Taste the Sun is taken from their A New Breed EP, available on all the usual streaming platforms, as well as a nice shiny gold vinyl record edition.
THE YOUTH PLAY – On Fire
On Fire is one of those tracks that’s about the ‘atmosphere’ of the song rather than just the lyrics or melody. It’s a real slow burner that builds impressively, adding wave after wave of ringing guitar intensity. My wife, a huge Doves fan, loved this track
It starts with a prolonged howl, like the horn of a 125 emerging from a tunnel, as the pounding drums kick in, laying down an unwavering beat. It’s the guitars that make this song, though – they moan and sing and soar, without ever being too excessive, dancing around the vocals like eager flames. There’s a density to this track that gives it real character, like it’s been recorded in a thick fog. Extremely impressive for a band that’s only been together for such a short time.
The Youth Play are aptly named, as they made old man me cringe when I looked at the Band’s profile picture – I believe the expression is I’ve pants older than their combined age. And I’m still wearing them. TMI? Probably…
They were formed a mere two years ago after frontman Diego Bracho moved from Barcelona to West London, and have already enjoyed attention from BBC Introducing and BBC Radio 1. Another band that has a Facebook and Instagram page, which is great, but with little limited info about them. Some short bios just add a little more interest guys… and helps us!
WITH SUN – Holding
We round off the Faves this week with a welcomed moment of gentle warmth and peace, provided by With Sun, aka Alice Hale, whom I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing previously for the Fresh Faves, as have several of the other moderators.
Holding is about how Alice used to view relationships and dependence as a weakness but has come to learn that, in fact, two lives entwined is a strength, as signified by the song key changing from Minor to Major to mirror her positivity. Holding is consistent with her usual exemplary song-crafting and captures the introspective self awareness and observations so perfected by Paul Simon — in fact, there is a certain musical phrasing at a point in Holding, bookended as it were between the guitar and that gorgeous piano interlude that reminds me instantly of S&G. And yes, that’s meant as a compliment! As usual, this song captures that truly intimate feel and is beautifully produced with enough space to let Alice’s voice — and more importantly, lyrics — be the focus.
Alice has recently become a mother (congratulations from us all!) and has refused to let the challenges of a new life deter her from still living hers and making music. I probably also have to mention that Alice’s father is Keith Hale, writer of Toyah’s breakthrough hit single Mystery. An interesting family connection, but Alice is steadily weaving a beautiful sonic tapestry of songs of her own that will hang on a wall just as impressive as any gold disc!
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.