New Song: Green Gardens – Buried in Snow

Previously we described Leeds’ Green Gardens as a group with impeccable harmonies and charmingly restrained rhythms. The desert rock riff that opens new single ‘Buried in Snow’ downright near sandblasts that restrained tag off. Taken from forthcoming EP ‘Sauna, Teach Me How to Breathe’, the single is frankly dizzying, its waves calming and crashing at a rate not even possible of this earth. Described by the band as a ‘call for action to the inactive’, it couldn’t feel more ill-advised right now, when lying on the sofa and binge eating popcorn is an act of heroism. Our inner saboteurs remain ever-present, no matter the state of the outside world, and when together they harmonise, “quick becomes slow as you’re buried in snow to your throat”, that lumpen weight presses down on us like a corpse again, its power reawakened fleetingly. If I was to have one criticism, it is that the desert rock riff zig zags in and out too regularly, its arrival occasionally feeling forced and unwanted. For the most part though, ‘Buried in Snow’ is instantly relatable and yet another sign of Green Gardens’ emergence as an increasingly vital component of our ecosystem.       

‘Buried in Snow’ is out now

New song: BUGS – Nick Gowland

Screenshots of middle-aged men proffering advice to wxmen musicians are tragically commonplace on social media feeds. “Love the song but at this point I would’ve done that”, “Have you tried your guitar in this tuning?”, yada yada yada. To South London four-piece BUGS those men are what you’d call Nick Gowlands – a common noun of their own invention for those most likely to drop by the merch table and ‘educate’ you on guitars. The rage simmers on their debut single never combusting into the inferno threatened by the song’s subject matter. The shoegaze-indebted guitars are light and stretched out like that final drop of drink when you’ve fallen on hard times. Alice Western’s voice is nasal, teetering over the edge to get a look at the drop but never letting the wind take her. They espouse a restraint that Nick Gowlands across the world should exercise when their fingers hover over the dm button, when their bodies turn toward the merch stand. Perhaps quarantine may offer a rare moment for re-valuation, an unending stare into the void. Until then though, we join Western in proclaiming, “Fuck Nick Gowland. Fuck all Nick Gowlands!”

 ‘Nick Gowland’ is out now on Sad Club Records

New song: Talitha Ferri – Porcelain

Few artists enter the arena with a trio of singles as impressive as those of Talitha Ferri’s. The ever-reliable Gold Flake Paint first introduced us to her back in February when they premiered her debut single ‘Home’. The Copenhagen-based songwriter has since gone on to release ‘The Sadness Lasts Forever’ and now ‘Porcelain’. The latter finds Ferri riffing on feelings of guilt that often accompany depression over resplendent guitar and writhing strings. That moment under depression’s dark cloud when you look at lives much worse off than your own and feel unworthy of the sadness that rests on your stomach. It’s something Soccer Mommy wrestled with on her recent album ‘Color Theory’, to all else’s intents and purposes she was living out her childhood dreams on the road and yet inexplicably an unspoken darkness prevailed within. 

Like her contemporaries, Ferri sings in similarly unvarnished terms, “Got it so damn good that it hurts / and I should feel much better / but I don’t feel much better” she regrets in a dejected, mournful tone.  The arrival of wrenching strings transports us to more visceral territory as Ferri matches the sharp yank of the violin bow with words no less cutting, “I’m standing here with blood in my mouth / trying to keep from spitting it out”. In expressing her feelings so vividly, she gives legitimacy to your own feelings, resulting in the track representing a two-way exchange rather than the simple portrayal of one’s own experiences.  Creating a space where others can enter on a level-playing field and work through struggles of their own is not an easy craft to master, yet Ferri manages it with ease. Laura Marling’s ‘Song For Our Daughter’ has provided the soundtrack to my lockdown so far and I’m sure that when Talitha Ferri’s debut full-length ‘Get Well Soon’ arrives on May 01 it will provide a similar comfort, just when we need it most.

‘Porcelain’ is out now on soulpod collective

New song: Forever Honey – Twenty-Five

Age anxiety feels particularly prevalent right now. Ever since the global pandemic hit, each and every one of us is facing the precarity of our existence head-on. Though I should be adjusting to the new circumstances of my existence, internally I’m presiding over selfish arguments, questioning whether I’ve made the most of my twenty-seven years. New York City group, Forever Honey relay their own age anxiety story on new single ‘Twenty-Five’. An age that induces a harsh self-reckoning, twenty-five is the point where you begin to battle with the expectations of what a twenty-five-year-old should be – I’m 25 now I should be at this point in my career, I’m 25 now I can’t be having late nights like this anymore. 

“I thought I’d never say / I’m looking more like you every day / it’s not a bad thing / I just wanna recognise my face”, Liv Price sings in the chorus, feeling the vigour of youth slip through her fingers as she starts to resemble her mother more and more with every day that passes. An electrifying riff rumbles in the background implausibly partnering with glistening dreampop keys. On paper it sounds impossible but in practice they work together like legendary crime detectives, one needing the other to reach their true potential. Forever Honey are not afraid to indulge in big pop moments, Price repeatedly sings “hey yay yay” in the starbursting finish where you’re invited to plunge into the revelry one final time. Price may be having an existential ageing crisis, however, if her band continues to break boundaries, matching styles you never thought would complement one another, tiring of them will be nigh-on impossible.

‘25’ is out now 

Album of the Week: Anna Burch – If You’re Dreaming

Anna Burch started the follow up to 2018’s ‘Quit The Curse’ with intentionality. Returning from tour with a handful of songs, Burch unspooled the patterns she had knitted, remodelling the songs from the common threads she discovered. A sense of weariness lay hidden underneath the blankets, a sonic tapestry which she’d eventually shroud the album in once she’d decamped to the Catskill mountains of upstate New York with producer Sam Evian. If Burch’s indie pop debut hit like a gale-force wind, ‘If You’re Dreaming’ is content to unlatch the window, the cold chill gradually gaining on the room’s farthest corners.  

‘Jacket’ is perhaps where this gravitational shift pricks most sharply. Drowsy guitars blossom ever so slowly, as Burch half-awake, observes “She left her jacket / guess she don’t need it”.  Sometimes, self-destructively, we house ourselves in the clothes left behind by former lovers, longing for their touch, their warmth. Burch is forever asking for people to stay a while longer, the disappointment when they don’t filtering through to the record’s pervading inertia. On ‘Tell Me What’s True’ she craves for the presence of a friend who knows her more than herself, “Don’t go I need you / to tell me what is true”. She’s threatened by a sense of incompleteness when loved ones aren’t there to fill the gap, “I’m so much better when you’re around” she regrets on ‘Not So Bad’, the record’s most immediate track. 

Two guitar-led instrumentals, ‘Keep It Warm’ and ‘Picture Show’ highlight Burch’s unwavering dedication to craft a perfect tapestry, these gentle idles transforming her vision into high-definition. She loses her aim ever so slightly on ‘Every Feeling’, pushing her point home so hard that it becomes a little cumbersome.

That aside, ‘If You’re Dreaming’ is a remarkable success. Whilst ‘Quit The Curse’ was invested in the immediate, her follow-up succeeds in germinating an initial thought, its impact growing over time. 

‘If You’re Dreaming’ is out Friday 03 April on Heavenly (UK) and Polyvinyl (US)

New song: Francis of Delirium – Circles

By Sage Shemroske

“Stayed way too close to let you go / not close enough to feel like home” sings Jana Bahrich on ‘Circles’, Francis of Delirium’s new single. At just 18 she’s familiar with the pitfalls of intimacy, of feeling completely entwined with someone and yet not allowed in. Her songwriting gives the idea that she has done a lot of traveling and changing of paths, but this feels like a final molting with the strongest skin yet emerging. Her voice strains against the idea of suffocation, “I can’t breathe at all”. She pushes against what restrains her or what keeps her stuck in the same cycle. Her guitar gains speed acting as more of a pulse than a pillar, not generating the blood but rushing it out. It’s a layered sound with indie rock’s edges but emo’s soul and struggle. ‘Circles’ works in a series of build and release, build and release. The track pauses ever so slightly to reveal its own intricacies- the scratch of fingerpicked guitar strings, Bahrich’s voice lowering with a delicate piano softening the blows, all before getting caught up in Chris Hewett’s drumming again. Hewett allows for a glint right before the chorus pulls the tide again. The track does a tight walk between despair and clarity, there are moments of certainty but the band is never entirely unencumbered. ‘Circles’ starts solemn and gains ferocity as it expands. Here we find Bahrich trying to find the light, fingertips stretched outward. Bahrich picks up the pace “my head’s not going under”, refusing to stop or maybe unable to before finally letting go. Francis of Delirium manage to change the current right before they slip down the drain.

‘Circles’ is out now on Dalliance Recordings

Album of the Week: Dana Gavanski – Yesterday is Gone

Serbian-Canadian songwriter Dana Gavanski’s debut album ‘Yesterday is Gone’ started to take shape from her bedroom desk in Toronto, a city new to Gavanski. She had not long emerged from a break-up and with roots not yet planted in the soil of her unfamiliar home, she was able to implement 9-5 office hours to craft her debut. It was only through injecting such routine and rigour that she learnt the unreliability of creativity, that it can’t be induced with timetables and calendar slots. A phenomenon she explores on ‘Catch’, an epiphany-like moment where she acknowledges the flubber-like quality of creativity, how it slips and slides through your fingers. “You have to be able to let things happen, to accept losing control”, she declares. 

It’s little wonder that the resulting record incorporates both the control she originally plumbed for and the exploration that came after. Its songs each possess a slowly bobbing rhythm and a loping, Patsy Cline-like bass, they all sail off course from here though, their individual peculiarities coming to define them with repeat listens. ‘Trouble’ is initially centred by dirge guitars dipped in black oil, however, its ending sees Gavanski indulge in prog-rock; cartwheeling synths and a wider instrumental meltdown helping you to picture an endless vista. ‘Everything That Bleeds’ has elements of desert rock that Queens of The Stone Age would be proud of, ending with Gavanski and co galloping off into the wilderness, the brass becoming mangled and disorientating over cantering drums.  ‘Other Than’ may start sparely but then out of the haze in strides a kaleidoscopic chorus reminiscent of fellow Canadians Tops at the peak of their powers, for a moment you’re invited to slip the shoes off your feet and let go. Gavanski has always been passionate about her Serbian heritage and she submerged herself in it in the autumn of 2018, obsessively listening to high-energy Kafana and café music. Something which I’m sure surfaces in these peculiarites, in how Gavanski uses the backing ‘ahs’ and ‘ohs’ of her bandmates to frame her songs.

During those months spent reconnecting with her Serbian heritage, Gavanski took singing lessons to learn how to sing with the resonance that defines traditional Serbian song. Her voice is pleasingly off-kilter, its innate eccentricity delineating her from the pack. Her words have an oddball quality too, ‘Yesterday is Gone’ sees her process a break-up and reckon with herself in a way only Gavanski can. She’s adept at penning short statements that leave questions hanging in the air, “Everything is also nothing” she declares on ‘Small Favours’, ‘How can I be good instead of bad?’ she questions ambiguously. If one thing comes through most clearly on ‘Yesterday is Gone’ it’s that there’s rarely a resolution, questions rarely have a direct answer, indecision and unknowing are a mainstay in the human experience. Once we accept that upward and inward growth can resume. 

Contrarily though Gavanski does close ‘Yesterday is Gone’ with a clear conclusion. “Memories of winter / long stalls in the park / now the birds sing summer / as our love fades in the dark” she sings on the sparse closing track. She has worked through the remnants left behind by her past relationship so much that it can now be untied, floating off into the air with the changing of seasons. Gavanski looks out at her future with relish. We do the same. 

‘Yesterday is Gone’ is out now on Full Time Hobby

New song: A.O. Gerber – In The Morning

‘In The Morning’ is the towering lead single from LA-based artist A.O. Gerber’s forthcoming debut record ‘Another Place to Need’. After a cleansing, revitalising start, the true colours of ‘In The Morning’ shine fiery red, Gerber letting loose in a rage which refuses to simmer until the song burns out. Though balm-like in the beginning, her voice turns malignant as she contrasts the wincing pain of a tumultuous past relationship with the surrounding natural beauty visible from her car window as she races on to Oregon. A collective wolf howl skirts her despair, rising and falling, appearing and vanishing. James Bond-like drama, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on Angel Olsen’s latest record, arrives in the form of whole-bodied brass and strings, they bounce off one another emitting a sense of foreboding as if the ground is preparing to give way under Gerber’s wheels. She does reach her destination however, one final gasp of relief escaping her before she turns the key, the engine rumbling to silence.

‘Another Place To Need’ is out May 22 via Hand In Hive / Copper Mouth Records

New song: BABii – Snake

On new single ‘Snake’, Margate-based sound architect BABii realises that the only way to free herself of a bad spirit is to express it through song. ‘A vicious ode to a manipulative spiteful person who has caused me, and a lot of people who are close to me, so much emotional pain’, ‘Snake’ is proudly petulant, an expulsion of hatred atop bombastic, bone shaking beats. Cresting and breaking synths make for an air of malice that bubbles under throughout, the foundations finally caving in when slithering, winding electronics clash with a bass that could crack firm gravel. A builder in all senses, BABii constructed the set for the ‘Snake’ video and has previously built machines that allowed attendees at an interactive clubnight, hosted alongside collaborators Chk Chk Chk (!!!) and Why?, to insert tokens to change the music and visuals onstage. ‘Snake’ is proof she’s just as comfortable at tearing the wall down as raising it from the ground up.  

‘Snake’ is taken from forthcoming EP ‘iii’, out March 27 on GLOO

Album review: Porridge Radio – Every Bad

Porridge Radio’s first album, 2016’s ‘Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers’, was the musical equivalent of a rag and bone man’s daily haul.  Gleams of gold glistening out from beneath the rubble. Recorded in drummer Sam Yardley’s garden shed, the Brighton quartet led by Dana Margolin finally gained access to a proper studio in 2018, the result of which was first presented to us through single ‘Don’t Ask Me Twice’. Despite the inconsistency of their debut, so many had their ears pricked for this moment due to the band spending the intervening three years building a reputation as one of the country’s must-see live bands. There’s something cleansing about having Dana bawl in your face, her bucket hat wearing keyboardist Georgie Stott creepily repeating her every word. 

And that is the central feature of Porridge Radio. Repetition. As Dana herself says, “it feels really good to just repeat shit over and over again until it becomes something bigger.” Scream “I don’t know what I want”, scream “I’m kind, I’m kind, I’m kind”, scream “I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better” – see how good it feels? Margolin makes mantras for the millennial age, statements particularly poignant now our identities are permitted to be as malleable as we’ve always known them to be. As a teenager I designed lyrics and quotes in word art, sticking them up haphazardly across my bedroom wall. “How do I say no / without sounding like a little bitch?” would’ve earned its place alongside Nina Simone’s quote “I tell you what freedom is to me. No fear” I’m sure.

If you’ve been lucky enough to witness these live performances, you would’ve seen Porridge Radio grow closer in real-time. Live, they fold into each other, prop each other up, make ‘in’ jokes with one another. Imperfections and faults are OK within the safe space of Porridge Radio. “Sometimes I forget to love / but that’s ok” Margolin sings on the electronic ‘(Something)’ and somehow you feel as if it was the musicians around who made her realise that. Margolin describes the sea as a place to ‘wash off your insecurities’, now having spent years revealing their closest secrets to one another, Porridge Radio invite you into the water, yours swallowed up by the deep blue for ‘Every Bad’s’ duration. “My body’s so uncomfortable” Margolin sings in the opening line of ‘Lilac’ and an entire generation feels seen. 

For the most part, their songs, visceral and unnerving, build to a violent crescendo, Margolin’s voice demented by the frenzied close as her band rally around her. They do diverge from this formula though, most impressively on ‘Pop Song’. Stoner in feel, Clams Casino could’ve been at the ones and twos here, the skygazing guitars could soundtrack the spiralling of smoke into the air. Margolin is equally laconic though her demand, “please make me feel safe” is less so. This could perhaps be an intriguing jumping off point for whatever they do next.

‘Every Bad’ is the kinda album you’d mix up with your identity as a teenager. If people didn’t get that, they didn’t get you. Whenever I play it, it takes me back to the first time I played Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not’, jumping from the bed to the chair and back again whilst still in my school uniform, thinking ‘this band are my band’. Porridge Radio are a band to call your own. 

‘Every Bad’ is out now on Secretly Canadian

Premiere: Hollan – Wild Man

I listen through our submissions whilst working, few waking me from my inertia. I still remember hearing Hollan’s music for the first time, having to push my chair away from the desk and sink into the fabric of my chair. This is the moment I’d been waiting for; this makes working through all the chaff worth it. Anna Manotti’s (Hollan) vocal could’ve come from any era, its deep reverence subsuming you whole, whilst her songs sound as if they’d sprung from the soil, the early recordings of Adrianne Lenker whirring round my mind. 

Latest single ‘Wild Man’ sees Manotti confront the reality of a break-up after returning home from vacation. “I was warring with my mind, struggling with my mental health and I felt an urgency that I needed to be rescued from the state I was in. During those couple of hours of feeling the rawness of life in a dark moment, I realised that a part of me and my soul will never be completely present. A part of me will always be somewhere else, somewhere better, somewhere right. And sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can go there”. 

Manotti’s words are so rich that she ensures you come along too. The scorched grass, the fading blue of the pick-up truck, the flower hanging from one’s mouth appearing in stunning high definition. “Somewhere I’m with you / Riding through the tall grass / And my feet are dangling out the back” she sings in the chorus, its beauty making you feel like you could keel over in front of your speakers. There’s a mourning, a sense of regret perhaps to her voice not distilled by the arrival of strings and swelling percussion. The ambiguity of her words steal you away from the day-to-day as you comprehend why the words “you know I carry rain” make you fall apart every single time. 

Whenever I listen to Manotti I imagine I’m watching her live. Stood in the crowd, my eyes are closed, the words to her songs escaping from my mouth though I have no awareness that I am singing.  The thought of it makes me feel warm. 

‘Wild Man’ is out Saturday 14 March

Album of the Week: JFDR – New Dreams

New Dreams’ is the eighth album Jófríður Ákadóttir (JFDR) has released in eight years. It is only her second full-length under the JFDR moniker, the other six emerging from projects like Pascal Pinon, a folk duo she formed with her twin sister at the age of 14, Samaris, an electronic trio she started at the age of 17, and Gangly, an Icelandic supergroup she joined at the wizened old age of 19. JFDR’s experimental spirit is obvious from the potpourri of guises she’s worn, yet never has she taken such a leap of faith as on ‘New Dreams’,  a record so stark it hangs like loose clothes swaying and blowing in the wind, your skin exposed to the elements at even the flimsiest of gusts.

With this record, Ákadóttir announces herself as a true architect of sound. The minimalist structures she consigns herself to amplify her flair for nuance. The songs start life as a lone raindrop falling down a windowpane until it spools with another only to split and return to its skeletal bedrock before finding a new partner. Each spooling represents a deft embellishment, an addition or subtraction that exorcises the listener, permitting them to levitate above the heap of blood and bone that sits below. New Dreams is a lesson in the power of space and silence, Ákadóttir knows how to activate imaginations, she understands that it’s what isn’t there than what is there that matters most. 

Language is ill-equipped to describe the affect ‘Gravity’ has. Though it is just Ákadóttir’s voice set to a whirring, air-raid mimicking synth, when it closes and the world re-emerges around you it hits like a spook in the night, an audible shock leaping from your throat. This sudden ending is an anomaly though, for the most part, Ákadóttir leaves the record button pressed down, capturing the hubbub leaking into the Brooklyn loft that made for her recording studio. 

Her voice is the focal point on ‘New Dreams’. As is her nature, Ákadóttir would spend her time on the tour bus stitching together beds of vocal samples for no other reason than her own enjoyment. It was her mix engineer that made her realise how these recordings could furnish the bedframes of her songs. This revelation bestowed ‘New Dreams’ with a voice that travels in the wind, the vowel sounds travelling like waves, unpredictable in their length or closeness. Just as her Icelandic counterparts Sigur Ros sang in Volenska, a language of their own making, Ákadóttir’s words are often unintelligible; at the end of ‘Dive In’ she espouses primal noises sounding like a woman in the final throes of labour. Elsewhere her elongated groans and grumbles are like a tunnel where you don’t want the light to enter, they achieve a transcendence you might previously only have thought Julianna Barwick capable of.  

‘New Dreams’ feels like an album that Ákadóttir had to get out of her system. She will never make a record of its like again. It is exclusive to the hermetic life she led in that gear-loaded loft and the thoughts and feelings that weaved through her in the moments leading up to her taking base there. It is an exercise in deadening weight, in unmooring a ship and letting it sail off unbounded. It is a record that flushes out and renews, gifting you with new eyes in which to see the world. When she sings, “thank you for taking me higher / thank you for everything” on ‘Taking A Part of Me’, one of just two percussive songs on the record, Ákadóttir might as well be addressing the process of making ‘New Dreams’ itself. The affect it has on us, the listener, is even more profound. ‘New Dreams’ is an immersive, sacred space we can drift off to whenever outside noise starts to overwhelm. A levitational phenomenon we can never begin to thank her enough for.   

JFDR headlines our showcase on Sunday May 10.

New Dreams is out March 13 on White Sun Recordings

Premiere: Alf Whitby – Mountain (For Change)

It’s funny that Manchester songwriter Alf Whitby’s artwork always features nature. His songs suspend you in a silence similar to that experienced by neighbours looking out at a blood moon, a solar eclipse, a crimson sky. You just stand and admire, watch it play out in front of you. Words cannot suffice. 

‘Mountain (For Change)’ is the most forthright of the three singles to come from forthcoming debut ‘Sistine Dreams’, the swell of its second half swallowing you whole.  Whitby’s voice acts like a gusty swirl, occasionally unintelligible, he layers its rises and falls elevating it to an instrument all its own. Though initially you might compare it to Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe, it’s more Anohni by the end, when he declares “I want it all / your grandmother’s throw / the honeycomb pillow / your favourite bowl”, his words carry the power of a fire burning inside finally given air. A song about the precarity of love, Whitby penned it after seeing the end of a close friend’s relationship that to him looked like everything he ever wanted. “That’s why love’s the sacrificial stone / The precipice I groaned to / The hardest to leap off”, he sings. 

‘Sistine Dreams’ is out March 13 on My Little Empire. 

Album of the Week: Snarls – Burst

By Sage Shemroske

“Walked down to the Walgreens and bought myself something to drink / sugar messes with me but not as bad as when you leave” sing Chlo White and Riley Hall on Snarls’ debut album ‘Burst. I think back to the summer of 2017, I have maybe $100 in my bank account but I’m at the Walgreens several blocks from my friend’s apartment trying to buy something caffeinated before a long retail shift, some of the only human interaction I’ll have all day. “I think I’ve lost my marbles” they continue between walls of snare. Who among us hasn’t lost it so completely? Struggled to shower and leave the house? The band is transparent in their experiences. And it’s not hard to see yourself in the album’s growing pains. Snarls blossom as glittering protagonists in a coming-of-age album. “Twenty seems further than it oughta be” they sing on ‘Twenty’. Further from childhood or further from adulthood? The track moves through a gilded reverb with a somber voice. Snarls are always peering over the ledge, questioning what has gotten them to this moment and trying to get a glimpse of what’s next. White and Mick Martinez slide the guitars down before Max Martinez’s drumming flares, “I’m not who I thought I was gonna be”. 

The band has an emo ethos with a shiny coating- more shimmer than twinkle accompanying their constant series of emotional declarations. Lyrics like “I can’t quit you, baby!’ on ‘Walk in the Woods’ take a pop command and wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Carly Rae Jepsen’s brand of vulnerability. Snarls move through a headrush of feelings, dynamic in their ability to shift tone and change texture throughout the album. They’re at their most controlled on ‘Hair’, a grunge tinged track. They briefly pull back the rhythm to catch your attention, “have you got nothing clever to say?” they taunt. It’s a controlled burn with a heavier bass sound and the drums punching up the latter half of the track. The instruments and lyrics act with equal bark and bite, “you can’t tell me what to do” they repeat.

On the jangling and sticky ‘What’s It Take’ White and Hall accuse a distant lover they can’t seem to escape  “…you like the taste of blood on your teeth”. They slow down the track with a slurry guitar interlude that would act as the storm before the breakdown on a pop punk album but instead precedes an eruption of dreamy layered synth. “What’s it take to be touched by you?” they beg, knowing the answer is always more complicated than it should be. But they have the courage to ask for help, White and Hall’s voices rise and catch air, “how do you fall like that?”, they sing on ‘Better Off’ and I think back to my broke summer where I didn’t even know how to say something was wrong in the first place. 

‘Burst’ is sprawling, bubbling with empathy. Snarls write lyrics to carry in your pocket like change, sifting through your jacket you realize you’re glad to find them. This is the sunny side of alternative, providing a soft landing for the heaviest of burdens. “Someone say when all of this will end” they demand to no one in particular on ‘All of This Will End’ as the bass rises up to match the kicking drums and straining vocals. They easily go from swooning and woozy to unfiltered and existential. There’s a beauty in listening to ‘Burst’, hearing it flourish. It catches the most pungent moments of joy and sadness and sinks its teeth in. Listening to Snarls feels like stepping into the sunshine after not having been able to leave your bed for days or the release that comes with crying into your pillow. It’s best listened to on a walk through the city or on a long drive when it can best expand. ‘Burst’ moves through the fluidity of life with you, seeping into every moment.

‘Burst’ is out now on Take This to Heart Records

Album review: Ratboys – Printer’s Devil

By Sarah Ross

If you read any music blogs or follow any indie music Twitter accounts, chances are you’ve heard of Ratboys.

If you follow the Canadian outfit PUP, with whom Ratboys toured last fall, you’ve almost definitely heard of Ratboys.

And if you follow Bernie Sanders and his campaign stops, particularly that of Jan. 11, 2020, you’ve definitely heard of Ratboys. 

If you’re still wondering who Ratboys are, don’t worry. Their latest album, ‘Printer’s Devil‘, gives us the answer: a tight-knit band with soaring sounds ready to be put on repeat.

Guitarist-vocalist Julia Steiner demoed much of the album in her just-sold childhood home. Consequently or coincidentally, the record reflects a sense of transience, memory, and the shift from uncertainty to embracing change. Whether you know the stories behind each song or not, ‘Printer’s Devil’ readily extends a welcoming hand into narrative (‘I Go Out at Night’), memories (‘Anj’) and figuring everything out.

Steiner and guitarist David Sagan met one another at the University of Notre Dame, combining their individual musical influences to push Ratboys further and further. Now, after years of having friends and members of other bands filling in, ‘Printer’s Devil’ welcomes drummer Marcus Nuccio of Pet Symmetry and Mountains for Clouds and bassist Sean Neumann of indie pop project Jupiter Styles.

These additions make all the difference, not just because the sound is more full and consistent, but because they give the lyrics and emotional riffs the space to soar. The rocking rhythms set the tone for whatever destination each song holds. 

‘Printer’s Devil’ demonstrates a level of technical skill that allows each song to come out as a fully developed, coherent thought. Catchy riffs, distortion and quiet moments do not dominate a song but add detail. In a world where it’s easy to get distracted from what matters, Ratboys’ ‘Printer’s Devil’ delivers an honest, intelligent look at life. 

Perhaps that’s why you might have heard so much about them— the level of thought and emotion evident in each note gives you no choice but to say, quoting Bernie Sanders: “Let me thank the Ratboys for their music.” 

“Printer’s Devil” is out now on Topshelf Records

New song: Chase Weinacht – Leap Day

Leap Day‘ is the debut solo single from Marmalakes singer & guitarist Chase Weinacht and his first release with Balloon Machine favourites Keeled Scales. Written in 2015 about the events of a leap day seven years previous, the weightless indie folk of ‘Leap Day’ is the type of song you’d want in your ears whilst freely strolling down a sunlit path. It’s the small embellishments that make it whole, the fidgety synth on the chorus, the ‘ba ba ba’ of the backing vocal. 

Written about the realisation that a lover’s world doesn’t align with your own, ‘Leap Day’ deviates into darkness when Weinacht sings “I am still in love with that woman / why does that make me feel so lost?”, the song structure collapsing around him. Weinacht reassembles the pieces quickly enough though and while this realisation may have devastated him initially, he’s content and glad of the experience seven years down the line. “I think I might go for a swim / I hope it’s cold out / I hope it’s empty” he resolves. 

‘Leap Day’ is out now on Keeled Scales

Album of the Week: Sour Widows – Sour Widows

As a child I used to unbutton my bed sheet and clamber inside the duvet, discovering an inner sanctum all of my own. I find myself back there, my body sinking into the exposed cover, my nose pressing against the sheet, whenever I listen to Bay Area’s Sour Widows.  They define their style as ‘bedroom rock’, accurately noting that they “expose tender moments with an edge”. 

It’s in the converging of Maia Sinaiko and Susanna Thomson’s voices where we feel that transition from tender to fraught. For the most part they reference the latent, assuredness of Faye Webster, yet on each of the EP’s six songs, they expel the breath they’ve been holding inside, a fiery passion ripping their throats raw as it escapes into the atmosphere. 

While their vocal inflections might change, Sinaiko’s words all derive from the same place – the desire to mine and process their sharpest emotions. On ‘Whole Lotta Nothing’, they want to escape reality now that their lover has moved elsewhere, “I want to put my lights out” they yearn. Written “by and for my body”, ‘Open Wide’ sees Sinaiko reflect on an intense period where they finally came to understand themselves as a nonbinary trans person. “My body wants to let every fucking word fly”, they sing.  

Sinaiko, Susanna Thomson and Max Edelman (Sour Widows) are longtime friends. Like inspirations Big Thief, their unbreakable bond is palpable in how their instruments enmesh and fold into one another. Sinaiko and Thomson harmonise like they’ve sang together their entire life. They’re each others shadow, exuding an intimate companionship as their voices spiral and float together. They both play guitar too, their velvety riffs recalling the puffy lines that trail in a plane’s wake, whilst Edelman’s drums never overawe, they sound dampened as if he’s laid towels atop their skins. 

Pilot Light’, the EP’s most immediate track, impacted us so much when we first heard it that we hailed Sour Widows as one of our best new bands. We couldn’t have predicted that the rest of the EP’s tracks would actually surpass ‘Pilot Light’, that they’d transcend further, that they’d endure longer, that they’d lift us onto another plane entirely. ‘Sour Widows’ is a document of growth, of personal growth, of professional growth, of friends growing closer together. Cherish its every moment.  

‘Sour Widows’ is out now

Premiere: Tom John Hall – Human

As an announcement rang through Manchester airport a few weeks ago, it struck me that for all intents and purposes I was now a passenger and that I’d remain so until I passed through the border on the other side. We shed our individual status more often than we realise, we’re patients, employees, customers, students. The individual requirements and responsibilities of each role require a different performance. It’s something Derby upstart Tom John Hall explores on new single ‘Human’, “a song about the tiny performances we put on in our everyday lives, and the nerve-wracking sensation of living in a permanent state of pretending”.

That wracking of the nerves is reflected in the song’s instrumentation; the spine-splitting solos, the frantic, galaxian synths, the hubbub of peripheral external voices that threaten to overpower Hall. Following an intro that recalls early Django Django, a slowly undulating riff comes to the fore, like a snake slithering out of a canyon. Hall regrets “it’s not me that people meet / when they meet me”, eventually declaring “we lie / we lie all the time”. The sheer hysteria that ensues from this point reveals Hall’s penchant for the eccentric, he ploughs a ship through rocky waters, challenging you to stay upright. Though fluid in the day-to-day, his identity as a songwriter is unbreakable, something that won’t bend no matter how great the pressure.  

‘Humans’ is the lead single from forthcoming debut ‘My Big Album’, out July 31st via Year of Glad

New song: Julia-Sophie – x0x

After years of playing in rock band Little Fish and, more recently, dream pop collective Candy Says, Julia-Sophie has decided to fly solo. Lead single ‘x0x’ taken from forthcoming EP ‘Y’ is in the singer’s own words, a ‘welcome to her electronic world’. 

The drum machine is perhaps the most prominent feature in Julia-Sophie’s new world. From the get-go of ‘x0x’, its beats are persistent, clawing even, providing a soil bed for the song to grow from. In line with the algorithmic song title, Julia-Sophie’s voice is robotic, singing “It’s hard to shake feelings I have / makes time pass slow” in a monotone that purposely contradicts the emotive potency of the words themselves. A warm synth which could provide an uninterrupted soundtrack to a spa swimming pool soon enters, along with a fleeting handclap, the inherent calm of both distilling the drum machine’s insistent clamour. An afrobeat-indebted thud drives ‘x0x’ to a frantic conclusion, perspiration dripping from the huddled hoards as they shield their eyes from an epileptic strobe. An intriguing entry point to a world well worth exploring.    

‘x0x’ is out now

New Song: Uma Bloo – Marguerite’s Novels

By Sage Shemroske

In my friend’s white tiled kitchen we are discussing friends-of-friends and what is good and local, and she excitedly tells me about a singer she thinks I’ll really like. With her phone set on the table for easy listening she plays Uma Bloo’s slo-mo cover of the poetically horny ‘I’m On Fire’. It echoes in a quivering chamber unrecognizable from the original. Just as devastated but noire not rugged. Since that 2018 cover Uma Bloo has grown, singer/songwriter Molly Madden now backed by a full band with a SXSW showcase under their belt. The new dynamic adds a textured layer to their newest song ‘Marguerite’s Novels’, the name of which is perhaps a perfect example of Uma Bloo’s pathos; Marguerite Duras, a french author known for her autobiography about a youthful affair titled L’Amant (which translates to ‘The Lover’ in English). Duras wrote prolifically and romantically before eventually delving into more experimental work. Something Madden has mirrored in her own career. The track walks out, Madden’s lyrics syncopated before the instrumental overlay melds into something more lush. Her voice is peeled back and the guitar starts to rail, taking up the job of the vocals, the reverb fluttering. The band sways and staggers into a finish. Yes it’s an homage to the romantic but to call Uma Bloo diaristic or confessional may lay them flat- they’re an experience, dancing somewhere between rock and baroque.

It’s impossible to listen to Uma Bloo without picturing Molly Madden’s guitar coated in silver glitter and her silk swathed photos. And then there’s Uma Room, an installation-meets-house-show designed to bring the audience into the world of Uma Bloo herself (a persona built on from Madden’s burlesque days). This gives Madden and/or Uma an opportunity to remove any label that may be placed on her sound. The Midwest has been graced with near 50 degree heat today and my windows are open hoping for an almost-spring breeze. The lights are dimmed and candles are lit just bright enough so that I can jot down my thoughts. Uma Bloo is playing loudly in the living room.

Marguerite’s Novels is out now

New song: Merce Lemon – Moon Shots (Demo)

If you search Merce Lemon on Twitter, you’ll see a ream of great artists who have asked the Pittsburgh singer-songwriter to join them on tour, many of them Balloon Machine favourites – Honey Cutt, Yowler, Yohuna and Rose Dorn. It’s a nod to the respect her songwriting commands in the DIY community and a suggestion of the success her peers suspect might follow.    

The ever-reliable Crafted Sounds are re-issuing her first two EPs; both were recorded by Great Grandpa’s Dylan Hanwright. They announced this release with ‘Moon Shots (Demo)’, a track that originally appeared on label sampler ‘Bridges’. I often find listening to playlists a passive experience, yet whenever ‘Moon Shots (Demo)’ is drawn out of the deck, I’m immediately brought to a standstill, captivated entirely by Lemon’s reverb-heavy guitar and her charming vocals. Other than the addition of an occasional straining synth, the song stays true to its humble beginnings, Lemon keenly aware that simplicity is her friend not her enemy. Oddly addictive, you make return visit after return visit to ‘Moon Shots (Demo)’, the stillness it supplies providing the perfect tonic to the busy everyday. Though it runs at just over two minutes, it lingers in the ether long after its final strum, the singer drawing you into a space of contemplation that you’re happy to bathe in for a while.  

‘Ride Every Day’ is out March 14 on Crafted Sounds

Album of the Week: Lanterns on the Lake – Spook The Herd

In hindsight it seems extremely obvious that Lanterns on The Lake are the band to soundtrack the end times. Their catastrophic soundscapes rooted in post-rock emulate raging bushfires, the flooding of cities, fits of lawless lightning, the last desperate acts of humanity. Yet I failed to credit the North East group with this predestination until ‘Spook The Herd’ landed in my inbox, the realisation hitting home as I processed their fourth outing whilst trudging through the wet mud of my local park.  

They aren’t here to cast gloom though, rather ‘Spook The Herd’ is a call to arms, “let’s gatecrash the palace and reclaim what’s ours” they demand. “Look at me now / all fire in the belly” Hazel Wilde sings on ‘Baddies’, the line with which she announces her rebirth. Now indignant and positively furious, Wilde is unwilling to accept anything but drastic change. It’s a persona that wreaks havoc through ‘Spook The Herd’, Wilde, the activist is emboldened and a distant relative of the songwriter we met in Lanterns’ more folky beginnings. 

The band’s tribal drums, arpeggiating guitar, booming bass and frantic viola amplify Wilde’s polemics, causing sparks to fly from her already firey vitriol. Climate change, ‘unhinged leaders’, fake news and trolls all come under Wilde’s wrath, her python sting. The dreamer within won’t be restrained though, on stand-out ‘Blue Screen Beams’ she sings, “He said ‘do you have hope?’ / And I said ‘I don’t’ / But I do”, the guitars swarming and drums mounting with every repetition of the words ‘I do’, an inextinguishable fire of hope stoked in the listener.  

Lanterns on The Lake are high drama, their music would feel at home in a cathedral. The withering candle flame in the darkness, the gory images of life and death, the carrying echo, the high ceilings. On ‘Spook The Herd’ they encapsulate their flair for drama better than ever before, they relentlessly build 80s high-rises of tension, just to send a bulldozer crashing through, the audience left to reassemble the wreckage. On ‘Before They Excavate’, a song about climate change, they follow up the line “Someday they’ll liberate our bones from the soil and say ‘here was life’” by stripping out all surrounding instrumentation leaving a lone piano to navigate the scales alone, it’s requiem-like, a mourning of humanity ahead of time.  On the more restrained ‘Swimming Lessons’ they gee you up for an earth-shaking ascendo, before throwing you off a cliff, the music stopping, a woman’s primal, repetitive howl causing you to writhe in your seat. 

‘Spook The Herd’ is concrete evidence that nobody combines passion and craftsmanship quite like Lanterns on The Lake. Now though they possess an added bite, they tattoo an indelible mark. In the record’s most glacial moment, Wilde sings “I never thought I’d be the one to be saving you”. It was something that I didn’t predict either, that Lanterns on The Lake would come to our aid in these torrid times and throw light on a pathway to somewhere better. Now that they have though, nothing has ever made more sense. 

‘Spook The Herd’ is out 21 February on Bella Union

Album of the Week: Fair Mothers – Separate Lives

By Maria Sledmere

This particular Sunday, I’m writing in the rage of Storm Ciara, writing from bed in my tartan blankets, deep in the heart of Glasgow. Somehow, there’s a reason to be here. I bundle epiphanies in the creases of a song, then another, ten of them coming incredibly; this album I listened to in the heartwood of last night, songs of a tender insomnia. Songs you’d knock at the bark, the rot, scrape at the sap to get to. And the wind outside pulls blue across the sky; to look out at that, surely, is an act of faith, a change in key. Somehow, there’s a reason to believe in the blue, the way you spell fear. Heartwood, heart of Glasgow, tiny throbbing red of a faraway loch, twilit, the darkling strings underneath. I made a loch of the song, clicked at the lock, shook off my midnight clothes to enter. 

Sometimes it takes a record to know yourself, luxurious as elsewhere, new melancholia. Released on Valentine’s Day, ‘Separate Lives’ is the first of two new LPs from Kevin Allan’s Fair Mothers project, and it comes as a gift for both the loved and lonely in love. Recorded in Edinburgh at Matthew Young’s Happiness Hotel studio, the album is a posthumous release for dearly departed Scottish label, Song, by Toad (whose roster included Lush Purr, Modern Studies, Lomond Campbell, Siobhan Wilson and Meursault). Featuring contributions from Dana Gavanski and Faith Elliott (vocals), Sam Mallalieu (drums) and Pete Harvey (cello), ‘Separate Lives’ is a record of intimacy and distance, arrival and departure, shadow and glimmer. It carries you on a warmth, a softness, but its themes are bittersweet, cut from anxiety and the sense of what’s missing. Not quite nostalgia, but some other mist that would thicken the present.

Fair Mothers’ debut, ‘Through Them Fingers Yours and Mine’, recorded with the inimitable, SAY-award winning Kathryn Joseph and legendary local producer Marcus Mackay, was a modest and gorgeous trove of songs, stripped to acoustic meditation. In the quietude that followed, Allan admits falling into a sort of isolation or straying from the solid world in retreat. These new songs, richer and warmer, with layers of piano, synths and strings, feel like a movement towards peace, almost plenitude, if not settlement. A reaching out and back to us, several beloved reasons to live. The video for opening single, ‘Rainfall Canada’ features a rolling monochrome of cloud, the line “I was in the middle”, drawing us into the sense of this drift, of existential betweenness. An act of intimacy described in the song, “you let me in / all the same”, speaks to the generosity of the album as a whole. Allan writes hospitable tunes you want to hum in the rain, higher, harmonising lightly with Elliott and Gavanski’s vocal contributions, moving towards a more velvet space of contemplation. 

I write this from a space of loss, as you may also when you listen. In ‘King of the Bile’, Allan worries if he is even “worth a single tear”. But every veil of that sorrow, the emptying out of self into mist, is only us breathing in the trees of our lives. Each song drawing rings around those moments that haunt and return, that burn or sweeten, unfurl into life or decay. And is it a freedom? There’s a nocturnal quality to the album, a sense that these songs come from times of interval or transition, times we ask for an answer beyond us or lift away from the grind. In ‘Arriving at Midnight’, Allan conjures omens and signs of a quiet madness between two people, on the cusp of New Year. On ‘Undone’, Allan and Elliott softly duet an unravelling that feels almost hymnal, if not loosened to an empty morning, crisp acoustic guitar plucked brightly beneath. There’s a trace of Jason Molina’s sparse and lyrical glow, his lugubrious self-awareness, moving into a kind of strength in admission, “same position on my own”, picked up with richer instrumentation. This is a dialogue between loneliness and what happens when you cast that loneliness in space: make of it swirl and sound, invite others into your storm. There are many lovely moments of clearing.

And yet these clearings are never permanent: the leaves shake in again, the sadness continues; the leaves will curl and crisp to cinders. Someone is playing harmonica in the dark room of your mind, and from that breath I would take a photo, hold you close. In ‘Suck The Breeze’, the refrain “I’m so lonely” susurrates through the song, despite its scenes of family intimacy; Allan always questions what it is we salvage from the everyday, how strange is time that it would give us these moments only to fade. “I was always someone else inside”, he sings on ‘Sharons’, and you feel the weight of that otherness is almost lithic, deep, without human age. The bristle of a chord is your face against bark, listening nearer, your ears to the wind.

Your ears to the wind are raw as song, cut into whorl and smoothed as rock. Co-produced by Allan and Young, ‘Separate Lives’ has a lustrous, spacious quality, so that even after the last song rolls, you might imagine a flame still flickering in the dark room of your mind. What breeze is it that keeps us in song? And you strum and you strum, and there is the weight. “Everything is alright here”, we have to keep saying, wherever the days take us. Maybe this album is an attempt to get at this ‘everything’, its rich possibilities of past and present, the stake of our lives, the lint that sticks to the days. I want to say it is soft, warm and smooth as mahogany; but it is also the cold chime of a midnight loch on your skin, the kelp-stuck lyric of slumber, the ‘Dark Old Love’ of what “scares the hell out of me”. Once listened, you let the splinter enter and lodge there; by the end, you know it was there already. After all, heartwood yields the hardest timber.

‘Separate Lives’ is out Friday 14 February on Song, by Toad Records.

Premiere: Jane Herships – Scott Carpenter

A permanent fixture of the New York DIY scene, Jane Herships has ditched her Spider moniker, releasing music under her own name for the first time. Today we’re premiering ‘Scott Carpenter’, the second single from forthcoming full-length ‘The Home Record’, following on from ‘Best Friend’. Written about astronaut Scott Carpenter, who was forever curious about the world around him, the song is as winsome as the man it pays tribute to. Driven along by an effervescent acoustic guitar, ‘Scott Carpenter’ rolls along at a pleasurable pace, like a train presenting a shifting slideshow of breath-taking views. Warm, astral synths lift us into the chorus, Herships granting us freedom from the mundanity of daily life, our heads bobbing in the clouds. “It’s a long way to the ground from here” she sings, and for a minute reality really does feel distant, making the landing all the more devastating when the song fades to nothing.

Speaking of the track, Herships says: “I wrote this song after having read about the life of of astronaut Scott Carpenter and feeling really inspired.  His life was dedicated to exploration and science strictly for the purpose of expanding his knowledge of the world around him. I wish that there were more people today in the public eye that were celebrated for their curiosity and wonder.  There is so much to learn and explore in this world and I want to feel inspired by the people who are brave enough to do that and that in itself is beautiful.  

“I asked artist Arielle Sarnoff to make the video for this song.  Her work is really whimsical and beautiful and she is really good at telling a story.  But there is also a mischievous or fun quality to a lot of her videos and images so I thought she could have fun with this song.”

The Home Record is out Friday 28 February

New song: Clever Girls – Spark

The reverberating guitars and booming drums that open Clever Girls’ new single ‘Spark’ are quite the curveball as what follows is enticingly pensive and withdrawn. Buried beneath the murk, Diane Jean’s vocals are forlorn for the most part, sporadically piquing to a Snail Mail-like yelp in the rare moments where desperation overtakes dejection. There are times when the Vermont band unshackle, the shoegaze indebted chorus for example, but the charm of ‘Spark’ is in the vacuous tension that permeates it, like children huddled around an elder with a gift for storytelling, you stretch to hear Jean’s every word. “If you burn the house down, I’m the match that you had in your pocket” they sings towards the end, their words holding the door to their world entrancingly ajar but never throwing it wide open. 

‘Spark’ is out now on Egghunt Records

Album of the Week: Babehoven – Demonstrating Visible Difference of Height

By Bethany Davison

Delicately crafted over a three-month devotion in the Vermont woods, Babehoven, fronted by Philadelphia songwriter Maya Bon alongside Pornog’s Ryan Albert, deliver a five track EP confronting familial struggles, new relationships and the experience of dissociation from the self. A lot to unpack in such a brief listening period leaves Bon’s vocals at the forefront of each track, with Albert’s instrumentals narrating their own complimentary soundscape, simply structured, though perfectly toned to compliment the sheer dynamism of both Bon’s vocal range and lyricism. 

“I’d rather be lost, than a loner / I wish I had the choice, anyway”, declares Bon in the EP’s opener ‘Only So’. Vocally lead and instrumentally diffident, it is almost alienated from the succeeding tracks, clearly delineating itself as the only song left un-written before recording. As such, its theme of isolation is rooted deep, immediately invoking dramatised imagery of their being alone in the woods. At points Bon’s vocals become exasperated in their climb, these moments of inflection indicative of painful catharsis, yet so intricately swaddled in raw simplicity, it invites comfort into subjects otherwise too difficult to confront. It is in this unembellished push-and-pull of self-indulgent solitude paving the soundscape that it soon becomes clear why, for Babehoven, simplicity is necessitated.

‘Confident and Kind’ underscores this sense of sonic alienation, as its dark-wooded soundscape dances in incongruity against Bon’s playful lyricism. Both a satirical ode to the self-indulgent consumerist principles of ‘self-care’ (“Went to the salon to treat myself / Searching for a way to restore my health” … “I feel awful / So much for self care”), and a grieving commentary on the difficulties of self-acceptance, Bon’s laments infuse humour into her brutally pellucid storytelling. Effortlessly tying abstract vignettes into a commentary on consumerism and the self, ‘Confident and Kind’ becomes playful in its circularity, and unexpectedly joyous despite its dark-wooded soundscape. ‘Asshole’ continues in this trend, yet overtly transcends it. It’s sedating vocals and murmuring instrumental subdue it’s biting imagery, eclipsing the brutatist imagery of bodily boundaries in new relationships, flirting in irony. 

‘Maybe I’m Bitter’ sees Bon’s voice marginally distorted, distancing her, acting as a sonic microcosm of her dissociative tendencies, a theme elevated by the abstraction in her imagery (“If I were an actor / I’d cut off all my toenails / Put them in a jar / Tell them it’s magical”). If the perceptive skill of Albert’s sound artistry was not already clear, it is deftly illuminated here. 

Walking behind a dark and droning synths, Bon’s vocals are no longer distant on ‘Close Behind’. Stretching her range beyond the parameters of comfort, as her vocals transpose in their climb, as though scaling the same emotional landscape as her lyrics, climbing out of the darkness that has underscored much of the EP: an amplified resolution. 

Delighting in darkness and humouring the most troubling parts of everyday life, ‘Demonstrating Visible Differences of Height’ is a tenderly strung triumph, as concerned with Bon’s own self-conciliation, as it is with encouraging everyone else’s.

Demonstrating Visible Differences of Height is out now