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.
It says something about the prevalent style of music that has been landing in the review pile of late that I find myself using well travelled, less is more type cliches, of talking about restraint, understatement and space more and more often. But of all of the minimal pop, ambient, dreamlike indie and balladic music that has come my way, By Myself perhaps marks a real high point in how to say so much by doing so little. And I use the term “doing so little” in the most positive sense of the meaning, for whilst it is easy to do little when it comes to writing music, it is knowing just which bits of this minimalist approach to use that is the real art. And Mos Capri seems an expert in knowing just how to cut that musical cloth to its barest and most essential…essentials.
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.
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.
There is a wonderful irony sitting at the heart of The Used Notes music. For whilst there is a wilful anonymity to the project, a writer and producer collaborating with various singers and musicians to see the songs to fruition but leaving the band largely faceless and the the audience free to approach the music without any prompting or suggestion, Scream Please is exactly the sort of music that if promoted in a certain way would probably fill stadiums and sell in big numbers. Not that everyone wants to go down such a route and the artistic sacrifices that are part of that journey and you have to respect that decision. For many the art is more important than the artifice and The Used Notes certainly falls into that honest category.
Pop can be so many things and shows no sign of limiting its adventures in the new fusions it experiments with, the new paths it walks, the hidden corners and future potential it explores. But sometimes in the surge to embrace a new sounds, open new markets and find new identities it forgets its prime purpose and forgets to be…well, pop! It’s all very well chasing the future but not if you do it at the expense of your core values, if you forget the fundamentals that makes the genre what it is in the first place.
How often do we hear words like “emotive,” “heart-aching” or “honest” being used to describe modern music? How often do we come away from such songs realising that those phrases were probably chosen by committee at a PR meeting and are there for merely commercial reasons bearing little meaning to the song that they have lazily been ascribed too? Well, not this time as Ferera Swan really does deal in such music.
Three years ago this weekend we were saddened to hear of the passing of that fantastic fellow, musician and film-maker Colin Vearncombe who many will know by the chosen musical moniker of Black. It’s so sad when people of such rare skills are taken from us early and all we can do is revel in the beauty and joy that their music brought us. I saw him a few times in more recent years and was lucky enough to meet him, albeit briefly across the merch’ table, a number of times. Sometimes is okay to meet your heroes, especially when they exceed your expectations.
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.
Photographs are powerful things. We carry around all sorts of ideas about how we feel about people, especially those we have lost, but sometimes it isn’t until we are confronted with an actual image that our real feelings come to the fore. That is the starting point for this latest single from Chrissie Romano Band and from there it explores the idea of everyday reminders of those who we have lost. A whiff of familiar perfume on the street, reminiscent handwriting, and a host of other unexpected sensual jolts to the memory.
The video for this latest release from Diamoness sits somewhere between a traditional music video and a short narrative film. It says something about how the media world is changing, that formats are merging and music videos no longer have to be the short, sharp advert for an artist’s latest album and can be a piece of art in its own right. And that is exactly what we have here, a film driven my music, a song visually expanded to tell a bigger story, a story that exists in both audio and visual worlds, and that exists where they dovetail to show a bigger picture.
Some music fits neatly into custom built, generic boxes and there is nothing wrong with that. But fad and fashions come and go, tastes change, music moves on and I find the music which survives, which continues to be relevant, which may even one day be regarded as classic is that which seems to be unconcerned by generic demarcations. After all, life doesn’t come packaged in different emotional compartments , it is at once sad yet positive, energetic and poignant, loud but meaningful and everything in-between, all at the same time. So should our music be.
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!
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.
There are few purer or more universally relatable things to write music about than attempting to capture the emotive sugar rush and natural high of your first crush and put into words those unexplainable and new experiences of first time love. And that is exactly what Just Wanna Dance is all about, attempting to describe with words and music all of those innocent, new and exciting chemical reactions that do strange things to you and your mind when love, lust and longing take hold of you.
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.
Whereas some artists excel at doing a signature sound, who perhaps neatly capture the testosterone fuelled urges of rock, or who might ooze indie cool or maybe understand perfectly the delicacy and heritage of folk music, Jimmy Lee Morris instead understands the idea of the song itself. I’m not suggesting that he is in any way a jack-of-all trades but instead of worrying about the generic trappings, the fad and fashion of a sonic task at hand, he instead is the master of serving the song; style and genre being at best secondary considerations.
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.
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.
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.
Throw around the term pop-rock and the mind initially goes to some sort of middle of the road, fashion-driven dross that neither delivers the immediacy of the former nor the integrity of the later. But what if there was a way of taking the instant hook and inherent melody of a pop approach and weld it onto a more robust rock vehicle. Surely anyone who could do that would be carried head high through the streets, would be called saviours, the rainmakers of this current music drought, would be regarded as heroes and brave cross-genre gene splicers of the modern musical age. Or if you are looking for a more modest title you could just call them Yam Haus.
With just enough touches of mainstream Americana and heartland rock to make the song already sound like a classic cut from your old record collection, Animal Soul is a soulful yet wonderfully driven slice of rock. The sort of rock that eschews foot on the monitor antics and other such cliches and instead takes a lesson from acts such as Tom Petty and John Mellencamp about how you weave pop accessibility through heavier musical urges. It’s a lesson that many acts today could do with learning as the result of such attention to detail is that Animal Soul is a cool customer indeed.
That Niki Kennedy is no stranger to musical theatre and stage productions is evident in her voice right from the start. That combination of delicacy and power, control and confidence which is a requirement for such a career means that vocally she can explore sounds that your average pop wannabe would fear to tread. It also means that whilst The Weather Up Here is unashamedly a pop record, albeit one infused with soul and jazz touches, it bristles with a maturity not often found by her would be pop peers.
Morning seems to sit at any number of musical crossing points. But then again all of the most interesting music does. It moves from gentle acoustic balladry to a more muscular sound as the song moves from start to finish, it combines the deftness normally associated with folk playing with the sheer infectiousness of a cinematic pop single and matches underlaying classical vibes with more anthemic and rocked-up stadium sounds. That might sound like a lot to try and fit together but I guess it all comes down to clever composition, allowing one sound to sit within the breathing space of another, for textures to weave around each other and for musical lines to complement rather than contrast.
If ever a song was the sound of the modern clubland dance floor it is this. It seems as much built of sass and energy as it is with music and beats and with a video comprised of Day-Glo flashes and searing visuals, it is the perfect shiney object for the current crop of high-octane music magpies. Music can be staid and serious, poignant and poetic of course but sometimes you just want something to distract you from the grind of daily life, something to loose yourself in on a Friday night as the club kicks in to life, something that is more of a soundtrack or a sonic escape than anything particularly meaningful. And for those times, Mr. Fix It is exactly what the music doctor ordered.
It comes as no surprise that the wonderfully named Zebulon Krol is both a producer and a singer-songwriter. Often the drive behind a track, especially in such pop-soul-urban territory, is either one or the other. This usually results in either a slickly produced song with forgettable lyrics or a deft vocal turn with clunky and clumsy music to back it up. Calling on his wide-range of skills garnered from across the music spectrum, Hate To Say is the best of both worlds.
Minnesota native Annie Fitzgerald has done something that not many female singer-songwriters are doing, and that is produce an album that is tender, thoughtful and emotional but deliver these songs with some oomph!
Most of us are suckers for a good love song but the path she’s chosen to present this type of song is supported by drums, bass, guitar and her voice (which will draw comparison to Tori Amos, Delores O’Rhiordan and Dido) and the songs feel so much stronger because of it. Don’t get me wrong, the opportunity to hear a singer stripped-back so the tale and the emotion is revealed is fine but if you have the talent and chance to bring a variation, perhaps that should be taken.