Scene and Heard –  CCLXI : It’s Not My Fault –  Welwyn Garden City (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

INSIDE_COVERI’m always a sucker for music which slightly confuses me, music which isn’t easy to just drop in one generic box, music which makes me want to listen deeper to get an understanding of what’s actually going on under the bonnet of that particular musical vehicle. And that is why this debut single from Welwyn Garden City has been on constant replay whilst I try to work it out. Not that music really needs to be worked out, but this is a review so that is the job at hand. Other wise it would be enough to put it on repeat, open a bottle of wine and just chill out.

It’s Not My Fault threads a line through some of the best moments of chilled pop past, from the psychedelic swirls of the later Beatles, through the more mellow, less beat driven moments of Everything But The Girl to the experimental pop pathways being explored by the likes of Air. And although there is a lot going on in the song, from the sumptuous harmony vocals and emotive piano motifs to the shimmering electronica, sweet but jagged guitar lines and orchestral sweeps, everything is separated out, give plenty of room to breath and work its magic.

People often observe that the music industry, and the pop end of it in particular, is now driven by a template sound, one that seems designed by a marketing team and fawns to this week’s trends, one which seems to be mass produced on sonic production lines and touted by dead behind the eyes divas and delusional chancers. That may be so but it is comforting to know that underneath that manufactured scene is a wealth of independent artists just waiting for the tables to turn, for their day in the sun, their quiet, peaceful and affable revolution. Imagine if that actually happened, that art rather than industry became the deciding factor, imagine if artists such as Welwyn Garden City (gloriously anti-pop name by the way)represented the new commercial sound. Wouldn’t that be something? We need to make that happen. We need to make that happen now!

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Scene and Heard –  CCLX : Strapaholics –  Amb1shn (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

61hGC26eWrL._SS500Strapaholics arrives at a very poignant time for America, a time when discussion around gun laws is more heated and divided than ever, but then music has always been good at starting conversations. Sadly conversations at this level rarely get taken seriously by the powers that be, but music is a powerful medium and can bring debate to the darkest and most isolated corners and of course just because the right people aren’t necessarily listening doesn’t mean that you have to stop making your point.

Armed with a powerful video, Amb1shn wraps his thoughts and world views in a slick piece of urban genre-splicing, a blend of cutting edge rap and muscle bound R&B groove, music which lyrically tips its hat to the street smart hip-hop which gave birth to the scene in the first place but musically is the slicker, smoother textured style of today.

East Coast lyrical dexterity meets underlying West Coast swagger, golden age 90’s vibes but laced with the fresh and exploratory sound of the contemporary scene, Strapaholics is the perfect blend of familiarity and forward thinking, of knowing your place in musical history and being brave enough to write your own chapter. The lyrics are filled with street philosophy, grim reality and social commentary and land perfectly on the listener with style and confidence and the whole affair is spacious, allowing every word and every beat room to breathe and so work more effectively. A game raising musical slice if ever there was one.

R&B, rap, skittering trap percussion, soulful hip-hop and even some unexpectedly accessible pop tones find their way into the proceedings, it plays with laid back patterns under the vocals, and if it wasn’t for the directness and blunt images discussed in the lyrics could almost find itself with mass commercial appeal. But this isn’t the world of compromise and Amb1shn is nothing if not unambiguous in the scenes and scenarios he conjures and it is this balance of some of the smoothest sounds overlaid with the harsh realities of life and the pulse of the street that makes this such a mercurial musical ride.

Although it is easy to pick music apart to see what it is made of, in the here the song is more than the sum of its parts when the work is finished and the joins neatly concealed and it is easier to defined it by what it is the alternative to rather than what it conforms to. It is an old school OG brain on a young pair of shoulders, alt-trap and post-rap and even in the dark streets of the underground urban scene, this seems even deeper, darker and more defiant.

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Say Yes –  Claudia Norris (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

NSS_FRONT__CNI guess we have Meghan Trainor to thank/blame for the idea that doo-wop ukelele has a place in modern pop music. But whereas Trainor has always made a pretty unconvincing figure as a pop star, Claudia Norris seems to posses slightly more sass than the High School Musical extra vibe that the former seems to ooze. She will probably even convince you that the pop-uke is not the gimmick that it first seems to be.

Say Yes is unashamedly pop and thankfully whilst the uke remains front and centre throughout it is gradually swathed in more expected pop trappings – beats build, synths wash, harmonies grow and the song develops into a fully rounded slice of youthful, sugar high, Day-Glo pop. It helps that the song is well-rounded and cleverly textured, growing an extra musical layer every thirty seconds or so, keeping the interest and evolving the song. And that is the art of such things really. The ukelele may seem like a bit of a clever musical prop, something to pique journalistic interest or a funny talking point but here it is just one part of a well thought out pop song.

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Scene and Heard – CCLIX : Knowledge –  Dynamos (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

KNOWLEDGE_Cover940x530Last time out, Dynamos proved themselves to be a fantastic fusion of old school, low-slung rock and roll groove and clean limbed, tight pop delivery, and latest single, Knowledge, does nothing but reinforces the fact. We live in a nostalgic age so this repackaging, rebranding, reinvention of classic R&B (as in blues driven rock and roll, not the pop diva nonsense which has since stolen the term) is perfect for the modern audience.

It plays as much to a retro, rootys, rock and roll past as it does to the modern post-genre world, a world where it is okay for kids to boogie away to such slinky pop-rock grooves, whilst wearing a Daft Punk T-shirt and clutching a Bob Dylan vinyl. Some might call that a lack of musical identity, I call it refreshing broad mindedness. And Dynamos fit right in to this non-tribal world, plying sleazy rock licks and soulful vibes, funky grooves and pop infectiousness but looking to the future whilst tipping their jaunty fedoras to the past.  How could you not love them?

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A Friend in Old Sol – L.HUNT (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

27983500_1618038474956352_7503838589822435098_oHaving already won me over with previous release Shadows In The Mind’s Eye and proven that there is room for a modern take on the much maligned concept album without it having to carry all of the musical baggage of previous eras, A Friend in Old Sol really underlines that point.  For A Friend in Old Sol is a gentle and considered piece, it grooves on a slightly ska infused piano line, mellow calypso vibes, and little else. The vocal undertakes a duet with an emotive whistle to great effect and if you are looking for a lead instrument on such an understated song, this would be it…not that it ever goes for the showboating, spotlight, merely acting as a subtle and supple response to the lyrics. A dance partner, if you like, and a very good one.

And lyrically the song seems to be a simple celebration of his friend, the one constant in his, and indeed all our lives, The Sun. Always looking down on us “silly little things” below, never faltering in its journey, constant, dependable and, lets face it,  essential. And it is a theme that has been prevalent in music since the first humans thought to beat rhythms on logs to make sure that the sun came up each day and the rains fell on their crops. Now we have a better understanding but still call that celestial ball our friend, and why not, has he ever let you down?

When the term “world music” crept into the public consciousness it tended to be the domain of a certain type of guy (and it generally was a guy). One who would use the fact that you hadn’t heard of a certain Moroccan hip-hop/jazz fusion band or his new favourite Mongolian Tuvan choir, to play his favourite game of one-upmanship with you. Well, we quickly saw through him and soon realised that there is no such thing as “world music” there is just the world and its music. And A Friend in Sol is very much music that represents the cross cultural nature of the ever shrinking global village that we live in. Less a genre, more a gesture.

It effortlessly crosses borders, both generic and geographical, it splices ideas and sounds, musical concepts and creative thought processes. Let me draw a line connecting old school theatre traditions and Wodehousian musical whimsy with Celtic folk, another from chilled uptown jazz clubs to the sun kissed beaches of The Carribean, and then many more connecting places and thoughts, music and stories that have no business being connected. Stare at the pattern of the lines for a long time, and then shut your eyes. The stars dancing behind your eyelids is the music of this intriguing project.

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Give Up –  Bilk (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

bilkgiveupcover2_previewBloke rock! That’s the term I reckon. From The Who to The Jam and from The Sweeney to The Streets, young, working class lads with an eye to fashion, coolness and musical history have picked up instruments and told us about their lives and surroundings. Bilk are just the latest torch bearers of that well established timeline. But whereas some try to shock with their wayward ways (Libertines et al) and hedonistic image, Bilk just get on with the job at hand.

The job at hand in this case is writing infectious melodies over groove heavy basslines and a steady beat. They combine modish chops with punk swagger, indie cool with pop accessibility and, in the case of Give Up, throw in a large dose of resolve and positivity. If punk was built on what you stood against and mod on narcissistic self aggrandisement, Bilk find another way, a positive way, a way that sees them accepting the reality of the world around them and instead of moaning about it making a resolution to beat it. And do so to a really well fashioned and effortlessly cool tune.

 

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Paper Cranes –  Cherry Coloured (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

25073329_1508419472561063_6913838846274581775_oThe wonderful Cherry Coloured is back with a song which blends the usual dreamy, ambient soundscaping with something slightly more driven, slightly more tangible. Without abandoning the washed ambience and tentative tones, Paper Cranes is instead built on a throbbing, hypnotic, motorik beat and some lovely and exotic, skittering chiming charm. It is this walk between the previous understated nature and a new found musical confidence and solidity which shows real evolution.

That restrained and smoke- like musical beauty is still present but now it shares the space with more robust and well-rounded sounds and it is this dynamic which creates the charm of the song as it drops down into near silence, reaches for noisy crescendos and explores every combination in between. Alongside bands such as the ever exploratory Wasuremono and dream-dance of Himmel, Cherry Coloured is helping to add a wonderful new genre to the modern musical canon, one that sits between post-punk dream scapes and modern ambient dance, that revels in space and a new sound palette, which doesn’t seek to conform but in not doing so is being picked up by a whole new alternative pop and indie audience.

Commercial success is not something that should be sought ahead of creativity, but stumbling over it on your way to writing the opening paragraph in a whole new chapter in the history of music is a very happy accident. It is something Cherry Coloured and the bands mentioned in the same breath are doing without even trying. How cool is that?

 

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Memories –  Echoglass  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

635731638724603404270724110_memories.jpgIf Drowning saw Echoglass playing with subtle balladry, Blackburn Boulevard took a more indie-pop route and Last To Know wandered some wonderfully Americana musical pathways, Memories seems to tie all those ends together. It has depth yet sass, it tugs at heartstrings, joins country vibes with the folk sounds which in part informed its development, pulses with pop prowess and wanders dynamic highs and lows so effortlessly that you can’t see the join. It also reminds me, in some ways, particularly the vocal structures and deliveries of REM! That’s a good thing right? Quite right!

In fact it is hard to think of a sector of the music buying public who couldn’t find something to love in this song. It crosses borders generically, geographically and chronologically and offers a song which seems totally in keeping with the cross-referencing, cross-cultural, small global village that the creative world is now based on.

Country grooves leave dusty footprints across the record and acoustic rock music brings the required swagger but there is so much more going on here as well. Bluesy bar-room piano adds some wonderfully deft touches and the emotive guitars which frame the song wander down some fantastic Southern rock pathways. It feels at once retro, contemporary and brilliantly forward thinking…how do you even do that?

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Last To Know –  Echoglass  (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

268x0wAnd just when you have Echoglass pegged in the broad indie-pop spectrum, when you think you have worked out their musical approach they go and throw a curve-ball. Not satisfied with just ploughing the same musical furrow, Last To Know sees them break out the Americana vibes and it is great. Musically sitting somewhere between a Nashville country ballad and the less rhinestone strewn vibes of the British-Americana scene, Last To Know is a charming blend of deft picking and sumptuous harmonies, understated deliveries but powerful lyricism.

It sits in just the sort of folk meets country territory which is going to appeal to music fans in the Old World and the New, a mid paced, lilting song built along simple lines, fine touches of piano adding delicate, underpinning detail, but retaining a wonderfully spacious feel that allows the voice to take centre stage. And what a voice it is, never showy or seeking the limelight, just impressive within the requirements of the song and that in itself, in this day and age, is a rare thing. It is that restraint, coupled with the room to breath that the songwriting affords that makes the music shine so brightly.

Yet again Echoglass music proves an example of loveliness over cool, apparent effortlessness over forced gimmickry and subtle musical textures over sonic weight. If only more people would adopt such an approach.

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Eyes  – Echoglass (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

maxresdefault.jpgOne of the things I love about Echoglass is their ability to hop-across genres, mix and match styles and musical stances and still sound like themselves, a blend of sonic cohesion and musical exploration. Eyes sees them plying their trademark positivity, the ability to take the minutiae of everyday life no matter how good or bad and make it universally relatable. But there is no ambiguity here, no looking for the silver lining or learning from mistakes, this is pure celebration, a song that worships love, which revels in the joy of having found the one, of romance and the vulnerability that goes with it.

Loves songs, especially ones which fall into the pop canon often undermine themselves through the treatment of the subject matter. Too simplistic and they fall into the realm of the twee and schmaltzy, try too hard and the song seems insincere. Eyes is the fine balancing act which wanders between the two camps, sure footed, honest and wearing its heart openly on its sleeve. Just how love itself  should be.

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