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.
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.
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.
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.
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, ‘SeparateLives’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.
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 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.
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
Husband-and-wife duo The Innocence Mission released their 11th album, ‘See You Tomorrow’, on 17 January. In our ‘Album of the Week’ review, we said: “‘See You Tomorrow’ is an affront to the division politicians and news agencies seek to incite within us, a head-shakingly beautiful testament to the fears and dreams that live within us all, no matter our skin colour, our birthplace or our gender.” Read the full review here.
Today Karen and Don Peris drop by to tell us about five current artists they admire. Check out their choices below:
Tiny Ruins- Me at the Museum, You in the Wintergardens
Even if just for the title, I would love this song by Hollie Fullbrook. But the song itself is amazing and is a world you can enter and walk around inside of. Another endearing song of many, from Some Were Meant For Sea, is Cat in the Hallway.
Junip- Line of Fire
We have been listening to Jose Gonzales for the past few years and could mention many of his songs, and our admiration for his complex rhythmic, low guitar patterns, but one of the most compelling is Line of Fire, recorded with his band Junip. The emotional impact of this song doesn’t seem to diminish over time- I always feel affected by it.
Stolen Violin – Temperate Touch, Tropical Tears
Jordan Ireland has written such emotionally resonant songs, that seem to come attached with their own mysterious small worlds. His album as Stolen Violin was our introduction to his music, found on Bandcamp after hearing one of the songs on radio. It was immediately captivating, with a unique kind of beauty and warmth, especially the songs World of Sun and New Amnesia Skies. A few years on I found the song Blood, by the Middle East, which I listened to on repeat for some days, and I was amazed to discover that this song was from the same person. Not only this, but with the Stolen Violin album I had also found a person who loves reverb even more than I do.
Bill Fay – Salt of the Earth
I love the simplicity of Bill Fay’s 21st century hymn for those “hidden from view, known by their deeds, the salt of the earth…that only the Lord knows.” Bill sings the song like he knows them too and celebrates their worth with a tender sureness.
Angelo De Augustine – Swim Inside the Moon
Over lunch in early 2018, my old friend Denison Witmer gave me a CD of the record Swim Inside the Moon by Angelo de Augustine. The CD stayed in my car player on repeat until my parked car got hit and demolished earlier this year. One of the last items I retrieved from the dash before the car was carried off was this CD. He has a sound that makes me want to pick up my guitar and write.
The human spirit is not easily broken. An in-built defiance allows us to combat often incomprehensible struggles before we start to falter. But we all have different means of maintaining that balance and finding ways to sustain.
When lives resemble a house on fire some people pray to be saved, hoping a rain is going to come. Others stoke the flames, craving oblivion in the shared destruction. There are those lucky enough to have others to lean on. And then there are those who make it through by creating something, whether that be for themselves or others, to channel their confusion and attempt to make sense of the nonsensical. It is this creative catharsis that drives Coping Mechanism, the moniker and title PAWS frontman Phillip Jon Taylor has chosen for his first record of solo material.
PAWS 2019 record ‘Your Church on My Bonfire’ closed with the 12-minute onslaught of ‘Not Goodbye (See You Later)’. A cataclysmic cacophony of post-rock guitars and spoken word monologue it brought the curtain down on their most finely tuned record to date.
As Coping Mechanism it is immediately evident that musically this is an entirely different set of songs to that of his work with PAWS. None the less it is a piece of work that finds parallels with his previous output as opposed to being at odds with it. PAWS are notable for their starkly personnel, resonant lyrics set to loud guitars whose influences range from 90s alternative rock, pop-punk, post-hardcore and euphoric indie. Here Taylor has immersed himself in another world completely. For starters the record is mostly instrumental, displaying a newfound prowess in the manipulation of analogue synths, samples and minimalist ambience. Where Taylor succeeds is in finding the warmth and connection he usually establishes through his lyrics within his rolling soundscapes and swathes of electronica.
There is a sense of frustration and search for calm found within the record. On ‘The Internet Makes Me Feel Ugly’ an acoustic guitar strum flickers in and out of focus like the static lines of an old TV screen. The corruption of the guitar line hints at the search for the warmth we could find if we could only tear ourselves way from our screens for a minute to focus on something pure, without that peace being shattered by outside interference
The despondency and sorrowful disdain of ‘Silver Spooners’ gives way to something altogether more hopeful in ‘Desire Caught By The Tail’ which along with the gleefully wonky synths of ‘Lasso The Moon’ marries the off-kilter indie of Wolf Parade with Postal Service electronic beats as glitchy hearts are stolen away by twinkling guitar lines. On ‘Missing Person’ vocals buried in static are set against tumbling drums and wrapped within layer upon layer of synth. It is a beautiful moment of reflection, an opportunity to simultaneously mourn what’s lost while being thankful for having held it, even for the briefest moment.
‘Coping Mechanism’ is a record reflecting Taylors surroundings. Recorded in the Highlands following a relocation from Glasgow the albums calming setting can be felt in the contemplative bliss of ‘If You Want I Could Carry You Home’ and ‘The Sun Does Not Know That It is a Star’. In providing a place in which to achieve the peace found in active listening, and allowing for absorption free from distraction, far from being background music ‘Coping Mechanism’ is a record with which to engage with, not only to discover it’s meaning but to also apply your own.
There are cold, icy corners and some uncomfortable spaces but they are real and relatable, and ultimately human. ‘Coping Mechanism’ feels as much about hope as it does about the struggle to overcome. It is a record to take from what you need, but most importantly of all, it asks you to take some time to be good to yourself.
I first heard Eilis Frawley on Get In Her Ears’ reliably brilliant Hoxton FM show. Though the heart-rate monitor resembling synths and experimental percussion of her debut single ‘Illusions’ caught my attention, it was Frawley’s on-the-nose lyrics that really stopped me in my tracks, ‘business will kill us / when do you have fun?’ she questioned, forcing me to introspect.
Today we’re exclusively streaming ‘Leave The House’ from her EP ‘Never Too Emotional‘, which is out this Friday on Reckless Yes. It opens in a typically idiosyncratic style, with nearly a minute of churning, haunting ambience. This ends dramatically with a sudden drumroll that’s followed by an almost gallingly persistent kick-drum. From there, we segue into another soundscape made up of a voyaging bass line and glistening synths. Like a malfunctioning robot, it’s stop start, start stop, stop start. Frawley’s speaking voice is the only constant, sarcastically repeating advice that anxiety sufferers like myself hear relentlessly, “you’ll feel better if you leave the house.” Bold and uncompromising.
We finalised our showcase programme for the first half of 2020 with the news that Icelandic visionary JFDR will be playing for us on Sunday 10 May. Acclaimed folk artist Josienne Clarke headlines on Wednesday April 15 with support from Good Good Blood, while Broken Chanter, Moonsoup & Randolph’s Leap share a triple bill on Saturday March 21.
January saw us pull our wellies out of the end-of-year lists mire and set foot on fertile new ground as artists and bands began announcing new creations. Half Waif, Margaret Glaspy, U.S. Girls, Dana Gavanski and Porridge Radio were just a handful of the artists to announce forthcoming albums this month.
Our playlist this month then is dominated by the lead singles from these works. If they’re an indicator of what’s to come, then musically, at least, this decade holds much promise. Listen below.
On debut single, Mirror, Manchester songwriter, Lindsay Munroe, casts a reflective and critical eye over her formative years. Cool, understated guitars bubble beneath a critical take on gender roles, stereotypes and media indoctrination – which all builds towards an addictive choral refrain – packed full of sniping attitude. Channelling a brash delivery that recalls Sharon Van Etten, this is a bold first release that is very close to being fully formed.
The Early Mornings are Manchester’s best new band. I first saw the three-piece support Porridge Radio in April of last year and found myself captivated by their bounding riffs and political poetry. Annie Leader’s apathetic singing style felt reflective of a young generation whose voices and votes count for very little within our ageing population. Today, the world gets to hear them for the first time, more than a year after their first show.
‘Artificial Flavour’ reaffirms the punk ethos of the 70s that all you need for a good pop song is a really strong riff. That parading riff is the song’s axle, the scaffolding from which they build. From there, Leader’s guitar jousts and spars for power with Danny’s bass. The chorus sees Leader deliver her most devastating line, snarling “And everyone I know is sick”. Those words signal the return of the central riff, now bolstered by Rhys’ booming drums as Leader concludes that “the dream was blurred”. Modern life is rubbish but with songs this catchy, The Early Mornings make it all that bit more bearable.
It’s hard to look at our lives and measure how far we have come, the people we have been, the roles we’ve fulfilled as we’ve grown. The footsteps that take us out of our adolescence are not those we often consider. Blinded by the excitement of limitless possibilities, there exists an overarching desire to shift the car into gear and gun it out onto the open road without pausing for thought. With hindsight it is a transitionary stage we would do well to consider more closely, taking careful note of the paths we disturb as we tread out into the frosty, hostile world.
Squirrel Flower, the stage name of Boston’s Ella O’Connor Williams, sings with an old soul. Her voice is laden with the past but held within it is a tender defiance; an assurance that the shapes she carves in the sand will not be easily blown away. Carrying with her the musical heritage of her family (Williams father plays bass on the album) her debut ‘I Was Born Swimming’ arrives with a road worn knowledge and nuance.
Bearing the fluid lucidity of a breath released underwater Williams experiments through various guises on ‘I Was Born Swimming’. From the half-lit dream pop and decaying reverb of ‘Headlights’ to the tarmac melting southern rock of ‘Street Light Blues’ her roaming nature mirrors the theme of self-discovery. There is a realization that finding ourselves is not a simple step from youth into adulthood. It is instead an ever-continuing challenge, an endless pursuit for contentment as we grow older and our perceptions and expectations shift. On ‘Headlights’ as Williams sings “Realize I’m not getting older / But I’m not getting younger / Headlights look different / When I’m looking over my shoulder”, there are hints of a strained relationship with the past, and an uncertainty as to whether it has been learned from. Time skews perceptions in such a way that it’s always hard to tell. Do we learn and get wiser, or just shift and adapt?
The record contains within it a multitude of touch points, but Williams riot quieting voice (see the expert control with which she lets her voice soar against single strums of acoustic guitar on ‘Slapback’) and crushing lyrical guitar playing imbue her songs with such a unique quality that influences prove hard to place. There are hints of Angel Olsen in the dramatic opening of ‘I-80’, while the faintest touch of American Football can be heard on ‘Red Shoulder’ where emo flecked guitars feel like they will tumble and roll forever.
‘Honey, Oh Honey!’ splits the record down the middle, much in the same way as ‘100 Dollars’ does on Manchester Orchestras ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’. In a brief blast of Neutral Milk Hotel infused whimsy, it recalibrates the album for the second half. It is a second half introduced by the composure shattering ambience of ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, where wandering drums and hallucinatory twinges of guitar swarm and settle into the most tranquil of outro melodies. It is enough to bring peace to the most restless of souls.
On ‘I Was Born Swimming’ Williams is constantly in motion. Not treading water but navigating an untold expanse. As she charts cresting waves and allows herself to be dragged into dark pools, she creates a record that questions and evolves. Life can be restless, a constant search for what comes next. The only certainty is uncertainty and we learn to bend, or we break. Amidst this chaos ‘I Was Born Swimming’ feels like a true reflection of self.
The title of Squirrel Flowers record refers to the fact that Williams arrived in the world still held within the amniotic sac. She was literally born swimming. It would appear this is the way she is set to continue, foraying into the unknown and creating ripples into an unseen future. It is symbolism with which we can all relate. After all we came from the sea, and to the sea we shall return. Maybe that’s where we’ll find our own truth.
I first heard of Frances Quinlan in her own right on my way to work. On a particularly uninteresting late October morning, I put on NPR’s All Songs Considered and listened to the day’s New Mix episode. Quinlan’s first single, ‘Rare Thing’ and its declaration that “I know there is love that doesn’t have to do with taking something from somebody” stopped me in my tracks. Between that and her own artwork featured in the video for ‘Now That I’m Back’, I’ve had her on repeat ever since, waiting for the full album.
‘Likewise’ is by no means Quinlan’s musical debut. She is more well-known as the band leader of Hop Along, who have gained a dedicated following and recognition in no small part due to Quinlan’s deft songwriting and measured, powerful voice.
However, ‘Likewise’ is Quinlan’s solo debut. The album highlights Quinlan’s strengths as a songwriter and instrumentalist while reaching musical, lyrical and technical depths that frame Quinlan in an exciting new way and give the listener ample opportunity to connect.
Starting with found audio and childhood memories, weaving its way through recollections of relationships and experiences gone awry, Quinlan brings a self-awareness to her music that is neither stifled by brooding nor exaggeration.
At the same time, the music is creative, full of fantastical imagery and sound. It’s thrillingly divergent. On ‘Went to LA’ she makes swift movements from talking about a cannibal to shrill, harp-esque notes to a shakingly raw cry. The tidal changes are necessary for a song and album that claim “out of self-resignation did I begin with tenderness.” Quinlan’s new odyssey, characterized by bursts of distorted guitar accompanied by poppy synth, intimate piano chords and soaring violin, give ‘Likeness’ its element of culmination.
Quinlan’s solo album brings to life the nuances of innermost thoughts and memories in such a rich form that “moments so small like this” and abstract imagery thrive and flourish together in a world all of Quinlan’s making.
If you asked who we hoped for an album from most in 2020, Half Waif (Nandi Rose) would’ve been pretty high up the list. Today, Half Waif has shared details of her new album ‘The Caretaker’, the follow-up to the sublime ‘Lavender’. On lead single ‘Ordinary Talk’, Rose cages you within a claustrophobic atmosphere of dense synths and itchy percussion clicks. Soon the atmosphere falls away, Rose left alone with her piano to sing, “Walking to the lake / getting in my car / folding up the laundry / taking it too hard / everybody knows it’s how we fall apart”. Even when she’s riffing on life’s mundanities, Rose’s voice never ceases to be otherworldly, conveying emotion like few others can. Ever the sorcerer, Rose then casts a dark gloom over the track as she whispers, “Baby don’t worry about me, I don’t worry about you” until her voice trails off into the distance.
Speaking about the track, Rose said: “Recognizing your own ordinariness can be depressing, or it can be a relief. In Ordinary Talk, I wanted to honor and celebrate my ordinariness as an incredible tool for making me feel less alone. The song is a reassurance that feeling bad – or ‘ill’ – isn’t something that needs to be corrected. There’s a depth of experience that comes from feeling emotions at their extremes. And it is, in fact, this vivid, varied messiness that makes us human and ordinary.”
Alice Boman’s quietly stirring ‘Dream On’, released earlier this month, confirmed the Swedish songwriter as a talent well worth watching. Boman kindly told us about five current tracks she’s loving right now. Dive in.
John Maus – Do Your Best
To me there’s something so comforting about this song. And melancholic. When it comes on, it always makes me feel a certain way. I think it’s the combination of how he sings (and the lyrics) and how the warm and big sound of the instruments is almost drowning it.
Aldous Harding – Elation
This song is so beautiful and captivating. I love how sparse it is. I actually discovered it through a live session and watching Aldous sing is really something special, she’s intense. In a good way. You can’t resist it.
Amason – You Don’t Have To Call Me
A friend of mine is the singer of this band and I first heard this song in her car last winter, driving home in the dark after a day skiing. I loved it right away and have listened to it countless times since.
Hey Elbow – Back To Reality
I just love this band and their sound. We met a couple of years ago on a party and now they are actually my band when I play live and I feel so lucky to have them with me on stage. They are such great and special musicians.
Weyes Blood – Do You Need My Love
This song feels like an old classic somehow. But then there are these sudden turns. And I love Weyes Bloods’ voice, it really stands out. I saw her live in Barcelona once and it was magic.
Since starting Alex Chilltown back in 2014, London’s Josh Esaw has spent the best part of six years perfecting their sound. ‘Eulogies’, out today on Fear of Missing Out Records, is the moment that gestation period comes full circle, the moment where Alex Chilltown become the band they’re meant to be. ‘Eulogies’ is an assortment of riches, it navigates between art rock and luscious pop, always communicating tension, drama and nuance in its propulsive rhythms. It’s a record so varied, that songs as starkly different as the sleepwalking ‘Seven’ and the epic title-track can stand together without question.
Esaw is an academic and resultantly ‘Eulogies’ sees him argue and debate over philosophers’ theories on subjects as wide-ranging as identity, futurism and anxiety. Its other central theme is more ‘down to earth’, the post-industrial Croydon that Esaw calls home. A place where concrete high-rises and failed redevelopments blot the landscape. He investigates this most thoroughly on ‘Carry On’, where he concludes “stories from the city where these hopes exist, either way these greying skies are mine”.
For me though, ‘Eulogies’ crowning moment is its closing ten-minute epic ‘Only Ghost’. With shades of Sigur Ros, ‘Only Ghost’ starts from humble beginnings, gradually, tenuously building towards a devastating, heart-rending climax. Above the noise, Esaw sings “In the end /We will blossom”. An uncannily accurate summation of the journey Alex Chilltown has taken from 2014 to now.
Esaw exclusively explains each track for us below:
At university we were a short distance from this open field. You’d walk down the side of this wide almost motorway that when it was lit up at night was weirdly beautiful. We’d wander down to this field and for some reason you could always see the stars from on this field and just being there felt like magic and like anything was possible. It felt like this world within a world and somewhere where you could see the cracks.
It was spliced with memories of other just weirdly perfect moments that were very cinematic in past relationships. Like a Sofia Copolla movie in real life.
That line from Bojack Horseman really sticks in my head for this track though: “You never get a happy ending, because there is always more show, I guess until there isn’t”
This song is about the morning after or the time after being in this world and how things may not have worked out how you intended but it doesn’t mean that things couldn’t mean to you what they meant to you at the time just because it didn’t last.
I guess this is something to do with the state of the world. It started like as being influenced by Los Campesinos! And Tigercats but then took on its own direction completely. I absolutely love Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar is one of my favourite books so I’m glad that I managed to sneak a reference to her and the book in there.
I think another recurring metaphor in my writing is seeing roads as rivers or seeing long stretches of tarmac as like bodies of water and that comes up again here. The song was meant to be defiant and I hope that comes across, about the millennial angst I guess we are all feeling.
It’s also inspired by former Crystal Palace and Republic of Ireland Defender Damien Delaney’s performance at Wembley in the 2013 Play Off Final and his story and journey that entire season.
This is where I put in references to Mark Fisher and Berardi as well. Fisher is someone who’s work on music and culture I admire a lot, The Quietus feature on his essay about Souixsie and The Banshees really helped solidify what I thought Alex Chilltown was about.
This song started off because I was obsessed with In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins. We used the same drum machine. The synth track was an accident with pitch bending that was hard to recreate when we recorded it properly. I think I was trying to get those (Sandy) Alex G and Elvis Depressedly tape sounds and that’s why there is a lot of hum and noise on the songs.
I’d become really obsessed with Slowdive as well and I’m a huge fan of their arrangements so that’s where the dynamic shift came from, When The Sun Hits style. I’d watched the pitchfork documentary about Souvlaki and I was just obsessed with their process.
One of the big guitar motifs on this song happened by accident in the studio too, It was just someone had left a really ridiculously expensive Gretsch guitar in the studio and we were messing around with the tremelo on it and came up with the added layer of noise.
I wanted this to sound like it could be on the lost in translation soundtrack.
This genuinely came to me in a dream. It’s about how your unconscious feels like it needs to resolve something with someone that you can’t in real life so that person appears in your dream and you have that conversation.
It originally had a few different forms but I was messing around with a bass synth and then wrote the bass line. It turned out it was pretty impossible to play on an actual bass so we had to record it in two parts and then layer it together.
This song kept changing in the studio and we kept recording different parts for it around the bass and vocal part. It was Emma (Deerful) who really brought this arrangement alive because when we were scratching our heads as to what exactly It should be, she was like “well what about this” and then we just kept layering.
The song musically is a nod to Spaceman 3 or Spiritualized but also a lot of other sadcore/slowcore stuff I like so Galaxie 500, Codine, Low e.t.c. It also lyrically features a reference to Disenchanted by My Chemical Romance but it’s very specific to my experience of that song so I am probably the only one who gets it. It’s meant to be esoteric and it’s called seven because of the significance of the number 7 in mythology.
This was about a breakup from ages ago. I spent a while trying to make the song work and couldn’t but it gradually started to come together.
The original demo of this song was way slower than this but we decided to try it faster and it felt a lot better. It just had a real energy to it.
Poppy’s Vocal really brought this to life along with Joe’s really cool break beat drum fill. We went into recording this album with a really specific idea of how to do the drums and I think this song was where we really reaped the rewards of how we mic’d them the most.
The idea for the twisting synths that propel this song was also something that came from a couple of shows where I played guitar for Flirting. And how they built a song live off a distorted sample. Also it was a nod to Nikes by Frank Ocean, which I really liked.
This song was meant to be our “We are All Bourgeois now” by McCarthy. So this nice jangly pop song that was actually quite political.
I was reading ‘Capitalist Realism: is the no alternative’ by Mark Fisher and other radical texts and I wanted to make a really lush pop song that was underpinned by deconstructing the world around me and to quote Mark Fisher
“emancipatory politics must always destroy the appearance of a ‘natural order’, must reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be a mere contingency, just as it must make what was previously deemed to be impossible seem attainable.”
This record is about destroying the appearance of a natural order and then the next record will hopefully be our vision for what comes next, for us as much as anything.
This song was really influenced by Modest Mouse at first. When I first started Alex Chilltown I was writing without any deliberate reference points and then someone said “oh this sounds like Modest Mouse” so I went and gave them a listen and fell in love. It then transitioned through lots of different influences like Broken Social Scene and Spiritualized but also Slowdive.
This final arrangement really highlights how working with Jonny (bottle rocket recording) has really improved my process of writing. I used to start on guitar and then build outwards where now I think more about whole arrangements.
I also got really into minimalism, like Steve Reich and Terry Reily and It made me start to detach the parts of songs from each other and then connect them back together through rhythm. So this song isn’t built with like a central powering motif more the way the individual guitars interlock.
The song is about growing up and making mistakes and how you learn from them and keep going and allowing yourself to grow.
I was studying at Sussex for a while and it meant a lot of commuting and a lot of roaming around Brighton killing time. This song started when I wandered into resident and a song was playing and it was everything I wanted music to be in that moment.
I asked the cashier like what was playing and they said it was Blind Blind Blind by Silver Mt Zion Orchestra and I knew that I wanted to try and write something that epic and I really enjoyed a lot of the way it built and the call and response and a lot of things from that went into this.
Live we’ve always had one long jam but we never really recorded anything like it before so I wanted to try. This was the final explosion influenced by like Los Campesinos! But also in the spoken word bit it quotes Jean Paul Sartre because I was listening to a lot of philosophy podcasts and getting really into existentialism.
I did lots of preparation and obsessing on this record, I did a lot of things instinctively but I also then spent time analysing and re-editing and trying to connect the dots of all the different things I was drawn to.
I made a huge playlist, that I kept adding things to, its hours long and it’s got so much different music on it and I feel like this is the final push where we threw everything into it. Will got to play some e-bowed guitar and we just kept layering and layering and making it bigger and more explosive.
I’m really proud of what we achieved with this record but I see this as the start rather than the end of the process. The next record will build from here and I think we’re still a work in progress and always will be.
Today we’re premiering the first single from Greg Mendez’ forthcoming record ‘Cherry Hell’. Though ‘Bike’ lasts just 93 seconds and comprises of fairly minimal instrumentation, the spectrum of emotions and feelings it manages to imbue within those limiting strictures goes beyond logic. The Philadelphian songwriter’s weary, latent vocals contrast the peppy acoustic guitar as he ticks off a list of people he’d prefer to be over himself; you probably fall down the same self-loathing hole every time you open Instagram. As a nostalgia-inducing synth joins the party and Mendez’ stream of consciousness becomes increasingly unhinged, “I want to fuck on ecstasy”, his adeptness at constructing vivid paintings comes to the fore. There’s a freedom and guile to ‘Bike’, its optimistic instrumentation ignites a child-like recklessness within you. With it by your side, you’ll feel like you can be whoever you want to be.
Kids are perpetually optimistic. They approach everything with an unfettered enthusiasm that eludes us when adulthood takes hold. James Smith (Good Good Blood) should know, he has four of them. Though he concedes that “the world has gone blind” on ‘For A Little While’, he sees a better, more hopeful future in the eyes of his children and the eyes of other youngsters, particularly those who take it upon themselves every Friday to abandon school and demand answers from those most responsible for the climate crisis. On the day Trump became US President, Smith woke up to a note scrawled by his then six-year-old which read, “Boo! For Trump and harray for Clinton. Trump is horibull”. The kids are alright.
On his fifth album as Good Good Blood, Smith embodies the spirit of his children, believing that they and their peers will bring about a better tomorrow. Written in his family home, his children and partner are present throughout, all the noises of their daily life – keys dropped on the table, little feet bouncing off wooden floors, creaking chairs – filtering through into the final recording. They even exist as arbiters of the songs that end up here, Smith knew that ‘Say Goodbye’ was strong enough to make the final cut when his nine-year-old began subconsciously humming the melody.
His home is sacred, an intimate space he wants to protect from the harbingers outside. ‘At Your Mercy’ invites us to crane our necks and peer beyond the threshold, to see everything that Smith holds dear. “All we need are sanctuary mornings / Sat inside with you as rain is pouring / All we need are sanctuary mornings / Stay in bed while thunder heeds its warning” he sings on ‘Sanctuary Mornings’.
Though Smith’s hopefulness does come across in his lyrics, the music radiates this optimism best. Originally birthed on a £10 acoustic guitar prized from a charity shop, the songs only really began to evoke the hopefulness Smith envisioned when Kevin Allan (Fair Mothers) lent a hand, his washes of meandering keys transporting the songs into a newfound territory of enchanting chamber pop.
While his past albums may have sounded as austere and lo-fi as the recording process itself, ‘At Your Mercy’ is full-blooded and complete, at times sounding almost as mountainous as the post-rock of Sigur Ros. Smith loops his vocals, so they resemble a choir, hooping and hollering like wolves communally howling into the night. This works to best effect on six-minute-epic ‘It’s Burning Down’ when you feel compelled to join the choir of Smith’s creation, helplessly chanting along to the empowering chorus, “When you’re gone / You’re always here / On and on / Your smell so near”.
Repeat sittings could inspire even the most ardent pessimist to imagine a better future. Go to any major city on a Friday lunchtime and you’ll see from the school strikes that the kids believe the mist can clear. And if they believe, so must you.
Dana Gavanski has marked the announcement of her debut album, ‘Yesterday Is Gone’, by releasing the subtly engrossing ‘Good Instead of Bad’. Her third single in under a year, ‘Good Instead of Bad’ imparts a sophisticated grandeur, you can imagine Dana and band playing it in the corner of a room as party guests waltz along to its slowly, bobbing rhythm. Gavanski is intriguingly off-kilter, her odd turns of phrase leave questions hanging in the air, the central line itself, “How can I be good instead of bad?” is delightfully ambiguous. Dana repeatedly questions “Or is this all I have?” over searing atmospherics and the incessant plucking of a taut harp to bring the song to a dramatic close.
Speaking of the track, Gavanski said: “It’s about reflecting on the end of a relationship and how quickly things change. The desire to make up for everything that wasn’t done or wasn’t done right. The muddiness of breaking up, and not knowing if it’s the right decision. Not saying the right things, not being able to express the complexity of what we’re feeling. Things change and that’s that – not being able to turn back and undo a bad move. It’s an attempt to see from the other’s perspective and understand how hard it is for them as well. Reflecting on the intractability of certain decisions.”
Yesterday Is Gone is out March 27 on Full Time Hobby
Nora Petran’s debut collection of folk vignettes captivated us so much that we had no choice but to name it as one of our favourite records of 2019. Today we premiere the video to its title track ‘What it Takes to be a Man’. The track is representative of the album as a whole, the landscape dominated by tender, ruminative guitar and Petran’s yodel-like vocal which references Emiliana Torrini. Petran’s work is stark, it entrances you in its smallness.
Though the track does note the toxic aspects of masculinity that lead to high suicide rates among males, “Even when you feel like falling / you must stand son”, it’s mostly an outcry at men’s position of privilege, “I grew up with thoughts / Because no-one ever told me to turn them off” she sings, inhabiting the voice of a male. And in the video, she appears to try on the different guises of male and female, it switches to show Nora in archetypal male clothing – desert boots, baseball cap and an overshirt – and archetypal female clothing – a floaty, flower-patterned skirt and pink high heels. She trudges through the sands, happily embracing the fall whenever her desert boots or high heels give way.
The Innocence Mission’s ‘See You Tomorrow’ is an affront to the division politicians and news agencies seek to incite within us, a head-shakingly beautiful testament to the fears and dreams that live within us all, no matter our skin colour, our birthplace or our gender. On their 11th and perhaps strongest record yet, Pennsylvania husband-and-wife duo, Karen & Don Peris thrust an outstretched hand through your speaker, inviting you to hold it and share in its warmth, to acknowledge the likeness of its’ skin and crevices, to acknowledge that at the root of it all we’re just humans striving and surviving every day.
Sitting on her piano in the dining room of her family home, Karen created songs for people of all walks of life, mothers desiring to shelter their children from the evils of the world all the while knowing they can’t, people of a quiet nature who are often misunderstood or labelled unfairly, people suffering with the scourge of loneliness, people who more than anything want to be loved.
“As time goes on, I suppose we keep looking more toward connectedness, and feeling more gratitude though also more challenge about life and wanting to find a language to define it somehow and wondering how others experience it,” says Karen. “The thought that these are universal concerns makes me feel more drawn to write songs, to join in a conversation, even though the conversation itself is sometimes about being at a loss for words.”
Words are inadequate when it comes to explaining the innumerable ranges of human emotions and experiences. Peris doesn’t try to steal the wonder which that inspires and in turn that wisdom makes her lyricism especially relatable. “Don’t feel we are different / when these things will make us cry / though we don’t know how to say why”, Karen sings on the awestriking ‘We Don’t Know How to Say Why’. Sufjan Stevens has previously praised the economy of Karen’s words and ‘See You Tomorrow’ is littered with phrases – “And don’t I know it”, “this day is going”, “see you tomorrow” – that manage to be simple, ambiguous and incredibly meaningful at the same time.
Peris’ words are enclosed within meandering, bolstering piano keys or gentle plucks of the guitar. The tracks are brittle, like straw houses threatened by gale force winds. They’re all undeniably distinct though, with time you’ll greet the opening notes with an exhale of recognition, the kind of sound that escapes when a band you’re watching start playing the song you’ve been waiting for all night.
In this moment of popularism and the emboldening of the far right, we have to hold on against our better instincts, we have to seek out others fighting against the tide, we have to make people see that the late MP Jo Cox was right when she said, “there’s more that unites than divides us”. ‘See You Tomorrow’ is a monument to the universality of human experience. Kneel at its altar.
Sofia Wolfson’s ‘Adulting’ was one of 2019’s best EPs. And the 20-year-old is quick off the mark in 2020, with new single ‘Party Favors’ arriving just eight days after the clock struck midnight. The verse has a breezy languor Faye Webster would be proud of, whilst the air-punching chorus invites you to throw off your shackles and indulge in a carefree singalong. It’s the perfect introduction to Wolfson and one you’ll hit repeat on as soon as the guitar rings out.
Speaking of the track, the LA songwriter said: “This song was recorded around the time of my last EP, but immediately had a different energy to it. I knew I wanted to release it separately. I wrote it while I was going to college in Boston when everything I was writing at that time was incredibly sad and slow and I needed to change it up a bit. I’ve always loved songs that sonically seem to be giving off one mood, while lyrically depicting another. ‘Party Favors’ stemmed out of an old frustration I had with a friend in high school who I played music with. The lyrics attempt to capture the feeling of not understanding a person’s motives or actions, of feeling like you thought you knew someone well but start becoming incredibly distant. And out of that frustration comes the song’s constant reminder that the person you’re in conflict with is just “bone and blood,” just one person in a world of billions. I think that lyric was me encouraging myself to redirect my focus.”
UK tour dates:
14th – The Shacklewell Arms, London (w/ Purple Pilgrims)
15th – Rough Trade East, London (Matinee Show)
15th – The Line of Best Fit’s Five Day Forecast, The Lexington, London