Ecological messages haven’t always sat well in music, being told the World is about to end isn’t the best subject matter for pop music, so it takes deft musical skill to deliver such an important message yet still be accessible. In short, it’s all very well having a message but if the way you tell it doesn’t reach the ears and minds of people, you’ve achieved nothing.
Agency has become one of the acts that I really look forward to hitting the review pile these days. Odd considering that their cool urban grooves, the soulful blends of pop, chilled dance, their slight nod to hip-hop and occasional rap excursions should resonate so strongly with someone like me who grew up to the sound of the foot on the monitor excesses of rock and indie music. But that says as much about the universal appeal of their music as it does about my personal growth I guess.
There is a lot of power in understatement. Even when trying to convey the most emotive of ideas, the most universal of situations, the most heart-felt of passions, you can often create a bigger impact through the delicacy of space and restraint than with bombast and weight. Aflame is a testament to such an idea and whilst it is interestingly captioned by the artist herself as “not a love song” it is undoubtedly a song about love in the wider sense.
The piano ballad has always been an effective musical format. Able to tug on heartstrings, ooze emotion, be relatable in the love, loss and longings that are the lyrical fare of such types of music. Week, Love is the sound of David Hugø updating that style for a modern audience and it is this blend of the traditions of the form and his ability to rebrand them for a younger, more contemporary audience that are the real selling point here.
The image of the ‘mad scientist’ musician is one we’ve known about for years, those individuals that lock themselves away for months – or years – on end, tirelessly searching for a sound or rhythm to take their compositions from their mind to the record. It’s quite an attractive proposition for those who have a single goal but want to go about it without the conversations and compromise that having other musicians around will bring, obviously the down side is you miss out on valuable input from someone who can look at things a little more objectively than our soul, lonely sonic inventor tucked away in his garden shed, but that is the price you pay.
We so often hear artists talk about how making an album can be a cathartic process, how music is a way of exorcising personal demons, of freeing the soul and revealing their inner most turmoils, deepest emotions, most private thoughts. But more often than not the said album actually ends up being little more than cliche and guarded revelations designed to tick certain boxes but say very little? On that score Temporary Hero is nothing if not the real deal. An artist who can forge music from the most intimate experiences, from real, deep rooted emotion and darkest thoughts. And if you are used to such a process resulting in tortured music and bleak soundscapes, again just another cliched refuge for artists looking to play to certain pre-conceived expectations, the sheer infectiousness of Quench will again surprise you.
I don’t know how Scandinavian countries do it, but they seem to be producing artists that, not only have something that is emotionally engaging and entertaining, but also have the musicality to bring these sounds to life in a way that audiences from other countries can relate to. Having a voice as crisp and clear as a Scandinavian stream doesn’t harm your chances of appealing to a wider audience either and this is what Norwegian singer Anne Marie Almedal has.
I often read the influence section of an artist’s bio with a mix of amusement and interest. It can tell you so much about a band, though more often than not it tells you what a band think they are about, two very different things. With less seasoned acts it often echoes what the band aspire too, all too often a pipe-dream or maybe a template that they work from. With musicians who have been around the block a bit it is the more eclectic, seemingly scatter-gun references, to inspirations past and present that are the most interesting, hinting at strange sonic machinations and new ways of building and blending music.
Firstly, anything that comes with a Barry Adamson remix has to be worth a listen. But of course long before you get to that little bonus the mere fact that Ego Death is the latest sonic slice to come from Emily Breeze means that, irrespective of how many post-punk heroes you name check, it was always going to get the attention it deserved anyway. I guess by now the only thing we can expect from this mercurial and brilliantly inventive artist is the unexpected and indeed Ego Death moves away from the, alternative lounge-noir of Limousines and heads down a strange and seductive soul path.
Roll up, roll up, step inside the psychedelic circus of France born singer and producer Aurelien Bernard where his new EP is groaning under the pressure of four perfectly formed pop tunes. This is the sort of music Dali would have listened to while conjuring images of leaping tigers and floppy clock faces, it’s a colourful journey into double-tracked vocals, neat percussion and music stylings that would have given Syd Barrett a run for his money.
Around this time last year I delved into the wonderful world of Echoglass via a sonic blast through their back catalogue. It became obvious very quickly that they possessed many traits that I love. They are masters of the lyrical hook and melodic infectiousness. They see genres as being colours on a musical palette, happy to paint with the full range of hues and shades rather than just keep following the same template. They are also confusing being snappy, immediate, sullen, raw, brooding, reflective and celebratory, often in the same song! Work that one out. And amongst all of this are songs with a sense of place. As the title makes clear these are narratives and tales, memories and recollections from their own neck of the woods, The North.
I’ve never understood when people say, “I don’t really like music”, I mean, what is that all about? Music is made up of a series of pitches and frequencies that are pieced together to make a collective sound, add some rhythm and you’ve got what is essentially food for your ears. You rarely hear people say they don’t enjoy looking at landscapes or sunsets or looking up at the sky on a clear night and seeing the stars and planets that surround us. Vision is for the eyes, sound is for the ears.
Although writing for and fronting punk duo Ghoul Kids gave Taylor Barnes a great place from which to speak on any number of topics and narratives, it wasn’t until he suffered the unexpected departure of a close friend that he decided that a different musical platform would better serve his creative needs. That new sound, a blend of drifting shoegazery, vintage surf and rock urges, gothic vocalisations and a dark, psychedelic pop, was in some ways the antithesis of the path he had up until then been pursuing but it also still pulsed with an alternative, underground and cultish resonance.
Pop needs saving and Hajk could be just the band to do it. Pop, R&B and Indie music are all very potent forces in their own right but it seems when the modern music industry mixes them together in search of a winning formula they always end up turning those vibrant colours into a nondescript sonic shade of grey. A shade that works as the perfect, dull and perfectly dull background for songs whose agenda of dance-routines and celebrity rappers, tried and tested templates and borrowed grooves should have been discarded years ago. But discard such artists and what do you replace them with? Hajk, that’s what!
One of the reasons that I get so annoyed with the current trend of people only attending gigs by bands that they already know, who fit exactly into their current musical wheelhouse, that their brother-in-law plays bass for, or whatever comfortable fit it might be, is that you miss the opportunity to be totally surprised by a band you previously knew nothing about. That was how I first encountered these splendid people, a small festival, the knowledge of one of the members previous musical art attacks and cool name was my ticket, and boy did taking a chance on them really pay off.
The history of contemporary music is littered with high drama and over the top behaviour. The path to rock ’n’roll infamy is paved with imploding bands, bad behaviour, reckless acts and personal feuds. That side of history might make good copy and is thus assured the column inches in the press but the reality for most bands is very different indeed. It is generally one of hard work and dedication punctuated with moments of genius, a slow fade out and a long wait before attaining the title of cult band. The story of The Go-Betweens follows just such a pathway and because of its lack of intensity and intrigue is probably more valuable a document for those wishing to understand the reality of the music business.
If pop music seems to have become a sonic painting by numbers production line more concerned with appealing to comfort zones and pre-conceptions of late, then we have to thank the gods of music for artists like Shreya Preeti. But it isn’t that she is making pop music that sits at a generic extreme or that she is splicing new sounds together in some genre-hopping experiment, far from it.
If only parents the world over knew the impact their record collection will have on their children then perhaps they would think twice about what music to listen to. You hear stories of expectant mothers playing Mozart and Beethoven in close proximity of their swollen tummies in the hope that the complex arrangements will somehow boost brain activity so when the baby finally pops out he – or she – are geniuses.
If Liverpool is known for producing bands with the ability to produce exquisite music whilst not taking themselves too seriously from The Beatles to The Coral then Big Tide’s first single from the forthcoming Sync or Swim (you see what they did there?) album is the perfect continuation of that tradition. Musically it fits on to a timeline of influence that runs from the original Byrdsian jangle pop through the bands who reinvented it on the west coast in the 80’s as the Paisley Underground scene, their English contemporaries such as The Icicle Works and on to more recent champions of the sound such as Guided by Voices.
For a man who has spent most of his career as a saxophonist, composer and producer in more avant-garde and psychedelic circles, Always All Around You seems to follow some classic and conformist lines. Not that that is in anyway a bad thing, of course it isn’t, the very definition of the term classic is an “outstanding example of a particular style; something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality” and that also tends to imply accessibility, familiarity and working in comfort zones. This second album sees Norman Salant adopting the mantle of acoustic guitar slinging, singer-songwriter, one who neatly treads a path that the likes of Paul Simon, James Taylor and Neil Young have left their sonic footprints on.
Some music seemingly exists to cut through the background noise of the world around us, some to reflect it back at us like a mirror and some seems content to create fragile sonic structures to encircle and capture it. Lavine is definitely in the latter category. Moist seem to make music which is about building deft and delicate musical bubbles to encapsulate the natural atmospheres that surround us. And their gossamer blends of music are a perfect balance between the pulse of the modern, human world and the ethereality of the timeless natural landscape.
Somewhere along the line the term “pop music” has become a dirty word. I remember when guitar bands blazed an exploratory trail through pop realms as interesting as any keyboard wielding dance groover. But in the modern age the genre seems to be associated with music industry production lines, dance routines and TV talent shows. That’s why you need bands like Talk In Code. For Talk In Code is a pop band in the very best sense of the word, one that can wander from pastoral pop pathways to incisive indie cool to rocked out riffs to dance floor infused beats and back again without breaking into a sweat.
There was a time when videos were merely a marketing tool, a supplementary piece of promotion to help sell the song in question, something to be fun and forgettable. But over the years things have changed, or at least those smart enough to understand the power of the video, especially in today’s distracting and visually driven market, have changed the way they use them. Jonathan Alexander is one of those astute enough to recognise that a song with the right film accompaniment is more than the sum of its parts. Much more.
It isn’t enough to be inspired by classic song writers of the past, you have to bring something new to the table as well. Fail to do that and you end up making music which at best sounds dated or at worst plagiarised. Thankfully this is a fine line that Israel Stone walks with ease on Game, able to create music which emulates some of the classic artists of pop past whilst at the same time delivering a sound which feels totally of the moment, up to date, anticipating the latest fad or fashion and even running ahead of the current musical trends.
Christmas songs usually follow some pretty tried and tested pathways. The imagery is usually of opening presents, of being surrounded by family, of food and cheer, of having and being grateful. Nothing wrong with that but in many ways it’s quite a selfish message really. And at a time when the world seems to be in ever more turmoil and division, when the gap between the haves and the have-nots seems more pronounced than ever, maybe a more realistic message, a more basic reminder needs to be heard and that is exactly what Lynne Taylor Donovan has done with Dear Santa.
Pop music doesn’t have to follow the seemingly ubiquitous current industry format, the same beats, the style over substance, the enforced dance routine moves, the slavishness to lowest common denominator transient fad and fashion. In fact pop music becomes more relevant the further it moves from such conformity. Fjokra’s latest single, Sugarface, featuring regular collaborator Annie Bea, is all the proof you need that this is the case.
If anyone ever tries to convince you that the technology that was enabled sampling and all the studio innovations that much modern music is built on has taken all the skill out of writing songs, then just play them The Keymakers. There will always be those artist who use such advancements to make up for any lack of requisite skills, but this duo certainly is not one of them. The Keymakers instead use the studio itself as an instrument, make (largely) digital magic and then learn how to replicate it live, as the accompanying video shows.
Who says that rock music has the monopoly on all the big moves? Alisa Chirco’s latest single is as big, dramatic, theatrical and sassy as anything that those posturing, foot on the monitor types could fire off. Give Me More proves, that when done properly, pop can be hard hitting and impactful, can make big sonic statements and run on sky-scraping grooves. With lyrics that are nothing if not demanding the music is the perfect mirror for that confidence and self-assured swagger.
As long as there has been music vying to be the Christmas No. 1 there have been songs that challenge such modern traditions. This latest offering from Spray is ironically both. In their usual infectious, humorous and slightly off-beat pop way The Ballad of Xmas ’99 (Oh Cliff) tells the story of…well, you can probably work most of it out from the title. It looks back at their shot to be the sonic Christmas cracker of that year only to be defeated by the usual suspects including the infamous, wired for snooze, Cliff.
Writing about music in a language other than the one I am fluent in is an interesting process. Without the direct communication of the lyrics you have to let the music do the talking which might seem like a more difficult process but which can actually feel more honest, subtler and more pure process. After all how many times have you heard someone say that “the music speaks to me’” well, in this case that is pretty much all I have to rely on. That and a very narrative driven video.