Singles and EPs, October 2020

A bit like those ‘fingers on the buzzer, quickfire rounds’ on a 70s quiz show live from Norwich, this blog is going to be full of short and sharp reviews of a recent crop of new singles and EPs that you may or may not be aware of. Not that it matters, as it’s a mighty varied selection that has one thing in common- they’re all worthy of your attention.

Let’s start with Max Taylor who’s releasing music under the moniker of Creepy Neighbour. I first came across Max when he appeared in lots of home-made lockdown videos with his parents, Barbara Stretch and Chris Taylor, which were posted on social media. I’d heard about Barbara and Chris through Nick Tarbitt of Integrity Records, someone who has regularly sent over some quality music to be aired on The Smelly Flowerpot. Nick had introduced me to Tribes of Europe, a vehicle for the songs of Martin Elsey which just happened to feature the voice of Barbara and the production skills of Chris. Apparently, Max had an involvement somewhere along the line too. There, that’s enough links for one paragraph.

Creepy Neighbour have their first single out, Millionaire Spaceman, which prefaces the debut album due next year. Not without a sense of fun, it has a couple of what might be called false starts- a dreamy intro with a spoken word about hair dos and dry air, followed by a mass of spacey synths before solo piano starts the song proper, though it’s fully 2 minutes and fifty seconds before the band (which I’m guessing is all Max) kicks in. Somewhere along the line a bouncing bass appears, soaring vocals and a nicely building climax with extended ‘looking down, looking down on you’ outro. Classic pop music in a Sparks or Korgis style, which is obviously a good thing.

Black Country, New Road are a Cambridge/London band I’ve followed since their debut single was released last year. In fact, a previous incarnation of the band had a track on one of the Cambridge Calling charity releases (as did Tribes of Europe, come to think of it). They have one of the most intense and challenging sounds of any new bands around and the latest track they’ve released is from another album due out next year. Called ‘Science Fair’, it’s first minute consists of tribal drums and the kind of strident guitar that presents itself just long enough to not outstay its welcome. This is replaced by strummed bass and what sounds like the theme to a 60s sci fi series before the edgy and distinctive vocal intones ‘I met her accidentally, it was at the Cambridge Science Fair and she was so impressed that I could make so many things catch on fire’. What follows lyrically sounds vaguely disturbing and is matched by a gradually intensifying sound which mixes more discordant guitar, atonal sax, keyboards and the returning sci fi series soundtrack. The climax breaks into the kind of instrumental breakdown that prime King Crimson excelled at, with hints of prog, jazz and post punk fighting for space. It’s a breathless wonder which leaves me quivering in anticipation for the album which, all being well, the 7 piece band will tour next year. You Tube link below. Check out some of the live footage on You Tube as well- they’re just as intense and unhinged on stage.

Another artist I featured regularly on the Smelly Flowerpot is Andy Jossi, a Swiss based musician who works with various vocalists under the guise of The Churchhill Garden and Blue Herons. Where the former band concentrates more on the shoegaze end of the pop spectrum, the latter tends to lean more towards dream pop. Andy’s released a new single under the Blue Herons banner with guest vocalist Gretchen DeWault. It’s a glorious slice of euphoric jangly guitar pop with soaring vocal and harmonies plus added glockenspiel. Where the Black Country, New Road track was full of nervous tension, this is brimming with joyful exuberance, musically and vocally if not quite so lyrically. As with all Andy’s releases, it’s beautifully produced.

https://theblueherons1.bandcamp.com/track/in-the-skies?fbclid=IwAR1V9ogd3KdhfFiyRwYvW7klmUMoSTER1zG4cAztFyTYfAjKOPtjMZbcy3w

There’s a debut release from Suffolk based trio Pine Belt. Titled ‘Silver Reel’, it was recorded remotely from each other during lockdown and it’s an impressive first release. A four track EP, it opens with the title track, a brooding folk song with hushed vocals who’s gradually building intensity unexpectedly creeps up on you, a dense organ and guitar effects adding gravitas to proceedings. There’s a similar deceptive duskiness to ‘Electric Elixir’ with the male vocalist sounding not unlike Tyrannosaurus Rex era Marc Bolan at times. ‘The Ash’ sashays along at slightly more than a lazy pace which perfectly complements Caitlin’s beautifully pitched vocal. Possibly my favourite track on the EP. There’s a fitting haziness to the start of ‘Summer Sigh’ which again gradually evolves with haunting harmonies and strings before fading away. It’ll be fascinating to see what they can do when allowed into a room or studio together. In the meantime, this slice of Laurel Canyon infused folk music will do very nicely.

https://pinebelt.bandcamp.com/album/silver-reel

Another paragraph, another debut (nicked from from Barbara Dickson or The Only Ones, sort of), this time from Alabama residents, Harrison Scarecrow. How did I get to Alabama from Suffolk? Well, that’ll be down to the aforementioned Nick from Integrity. Described as indie noir, this first release has a similar bruised romanticism to some of Bruce Springsteen’s finest songs and also shares his knack for an appealing and memorable chorus. The sweeping strings that come in just over half way through are quite affecting- with the lyrics dealing with accepting the fate of a doomed relationship and trying to move on, they add another emotional layer to a song already aching with poignancy. Incidentally, it’s called ‘Everyone with Someone’.  Another album (due late next year) that’s eagerly anticipated.

Intermission:  In this time of no, or at least very few, gigs I’ve had cause to go all nostalgic and think about some of the concerts I’ve attended over the years. Some people I know have kept diaries and records of all the gigs they’ve been to, kept ticket stubs and programmes etc. I’m not that organised- ticket stubs usually stayed in my jeans pocket, ending up in the washing machine and being broken down into a thousand pieces and distributed over everyone else’s clothes as tiny white fluffy dots, much to their distress. Actually, washing machines and I have a chequered history. Ever since I washed my cricket whites with a red tea towel and produced some cricket pinks in fact. I also recall hoovering the inside of a washing machine out once, though I don’t recall why. Drink may have been involved. Currently, I get on quite well with the washing machine at home. I think that’s partly because it’s a bloody expensive one but also because Kate Bush once wrote a song about a washing machine. The power of music to bring people and, er, washing machines together, right?

Anyway, those gigs. A handful I could (and probably will) talk about in future blogs are those by Led Zep at Knebworth, several Clash gigs, The Bhundu Boys, The Distractions (both 1980 and 2012), numerous Martin Stephenson over thirty odd years, the ones I attended free at the old Wembley Arena as a steward (Springsteen, Talking Heads, Neil Young, The Jam etc), New Order at The Kilburn Ballroom (possibly the most disappointing gig I’ve ever been to) and a fair few Wreckless Eric ones. The one gig I would love to talk about but can’t, would be by Jackie Leven. Sadly, I never got to see him play. More recently, my favourite nights out have been at The Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds, a town that was apparently robbed of live music for many years when the local council banned it following a gig by The Clash, which allegedly led to a riot. The place now has a thriving music scene which is centred around The Hunter Club. Long may it last. Ah, nostalgia- it ain’t what it used to be…

Back to the reviews…an EP released through Colliding Lines is an interesting project featuring poet Nikki Marrone and composer Laura McGarrigle aka Gaze is Ghost. Titled ‘Lifelines’, there are themes of motherhood (both recently became parents for the first time) and the trials and tribulations of family life, past, present and future in its six tracks. The latter theme is explored quite dramatically in Burning Through the Bloodlines, the author exploring and coming to terms with the inherited gene pool and its effects on those who follow. A sparse backing of strings, keyboard and what sounds like handclaps or finger clicks adding weight to the spoken word delivery. There’s an even sparser backing of piano and percussion to ‘Petition Me, I Dare You’ while the muffled sounding ‘Birth: A Psychedelic Odyssey’ could be an imagining of the sounds heard in the womb. At times there’s a sense of awe and wonder as well as a barely held-in cracked emotion in the delivery of the poetry (‘In Embryo’ is a wonderful example with it’s rolling piano heightening the feeling) while the tender and joyful ‘Revenge’ shows a disarming sense of humour. It’s a wholly engaging and refreshingly honest release. Check it out below.

https://collidinglines.bandcamp.com/album/lifelines

Final review for now is a new single by Filed Fangs, released through German Shepherd Records, called ‘Chaff’. Filed Fangs are Boz Hayward (who released a lovely album called ‘Tennessee Ten’ a few years ago and is also a member of punk band Flea) and Paul Morley (formerly of the Slum Turkeys) and this is their third single. Being Manchester lads, it reflects many of the sounds they grew up with in the area, but brought bang up to date. It’s an energetic, hypnotic and sometimes dizzying mix of electronic music, distorted vocals and grungy guitars which can be heard through the German Shepherd Records Bandcamp page below.

https://filedfangs.bandcamp.com/album/chaff

While we’re on GS Records and Bandcamp- don’t forget the first Friday of the month is no fees day on Bandcamp. In other words, every penny you pay for a release goes to the artist/label. Also, tying in nicely, don’t forget the first release in many years from cult band Dislocation Dance (reviewed previously) is now available. Not only is it excellent, but it aims to raise money to help prolong the life of band member Ian Runacre’s son, who is suffering from terminal brain cancer. Here’s a message from Ian with various links which give more details.

In September 2019 my 19 year old son Joel, was diagnosed with Glioblastoma. This is the most aggressive and lethal of all brain cancers. To help prolong his life, the best option for Joel is to receive a pioneering new treatment, as quickly as possible. The treatment is in the form of a personalised vaccine manufactured from Joel’s own tumour tissue, but it is very expensive. All income from the sale of this EP will contribute towards crowdfunding for Joel’s treatment.

The aim is to help Joel live longer.

Information about Joel’s story and the fundraising campaign can be found at:

GO FUND ME https://uk.gofundme.com/f/helpjoellivelonger

FACEBOOK https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Nonprofit-Organization/Help-Joel-Live-Longer-103173274841678/

https://dislocationdance.bandcamp.com/album/discombobulation?from=embed

Take care folks- life is precious. x

Reviews, reviews, reviews…

A packed blog this time around, so I’ll cut the waffly bits (well, most of them) and get straight down to reviewing some great new releases. Singles, albums and EPs- all essential listening…

I remember enthusing about ‘Fragmentality’, an album by Glasgow based Becci Wallace, a few years ago to a work colleague. When he asked me what the music was like, after a pause I replied ‘I dunno. But it’s really good’. Not exactly an in-depth assessment from a wanna be music blogger. Anyway, Becci has a new album due out at the beginning of November- here’s my efforts to describe it in a little more detail. The album is called ‘Present Tense’ and it’s bloody good. There, that should do it…

In the years since Becci released Fragmentality, she’s had two children, set up song writing retreats for other locally based artists, produced a series of podcasts featuring females involved in the music industry and worked as a lecturer at the University of West Scotland. Somehow, she’s also managed to find time to write and record her new album. Musically more varied than its predecessor, it still features some of the trip hop beats and spacey arrangements that were prominent on the debut while adding in a variety of settings to her heart-on-sleeve, at times emotionally raw lyrics. Some songs are more stripped back featuring haunting piano and voice or layered harmonies, as with the opening two tracks, while the hypnotic beats make a first appearance on ‘The Things They Say About Love’. A feature throughout the album is Becci’s singing which can veer between gently persuasive and passionately pleading, often in the same song, and isn’t afraid to step outside these confines, as with the vocal whoop on this track that startles on first listen before bedding in as an essential part of the song a few listens on.

‘Swan Song’ is acoustically driven, a stuttering beat entering the fray along with a spoken word piece that takes the song to its conclusion. There’s a duet on ‘Coloured In’ with Bryan McFarland which also stands out, not least because of the interweaving lead vocals and harmonies. The album title perhaps gives us some idea of the lyrical content, with many songs appearing to examine the trials and tribulations, the ups and downs of balancing life as a mother, partner and creative artist. This is highlighted perfectly by the singing and spoken word pieces that wrap around each other on ‘Conditional’, as if two voices are sounding at the same time, attempting to make sense of the situation. There is anguish and anxiety at times, but there’s also tenderness and positivity.

‘Petal’ has a lovely keyboard underpinning more intertwining, multi-tracked voices that are gently uplifting, while ‘Focus’ features a rap that’s an outpouring of feelings, emotions and explanations juxtaposed with a gorgeous, swelling instrumental that hits the emotional hot spot.

After starting the album with three largely piano led tracks, the last three tracks are mainly acoustic driven and continue the themes of juggling the emotional with the practical and coming to some sort of understanding on how to achieve equilibrium. They bring this honest, emotional roller coaster of an album to a very satisfying close. A link to pre-order is on Becci’s Bandcamp page, here’s a track from the album.

The whole ethos of The Smelly Flowerpot on Cambridge 105 Radio was to feature artists that were producing new and interesting music, especially if they were doing so without the backing of the bigger record labels, large PR companies and playlist patronage. As such, the way I came across some artists was often through a circuitous route and/or through a series of unlikely coincidences. One such artist is Rosie Abbott. Let me explain…

A favourite band of mine from Manchester, The Distractions, signed up to a label based in Exeter to release their first album in 40 years. Further investigation of releases on the label brought Nottingham based Jonathan Beckett to my attention, as he had just released his first EP on the label. Having got in touch with Jon, he recommended I contact uber music fan Red Head (aka Diana McGinniss) from Pennsylvania, thinking we would have a lot in common when it came to music. Red Head in turn told me about another Nottingham based artist, Rosie Abbott, who was about to release her first album. That’s a fair few virtual air miles . Fast forward 8 years and Rosie is about to release her 3rd album.

As with the previous three, she has written, produced, sung and played all the instruments on the album. Apart from developing her songwriting, she has spent the last few years evolving her studio set up and flourishing within its confines, all of which show on ‘Magnified’. Rosie has always had a winning way with a tune, her sense of melody and willingness to play around and tinker with song formats making her standout in a crowded field. Previously she’s used a recording of a wood pigeon to inspire a song and used hiccups to illustrate progressing inebriation in one of the best drinking songs I can recall. She even followed it up with one about hangovers on the next album.

Anyway, back to this album. The title track, like many of her songs, shows her love for The Beatles and their subsequent solo careers. Piano led with multi tracked vocals, it conveys a sense of awe at the world around us. ‘I Confess’ is, well, a confessional- the narrator perhaps regretting the end of a relationship and wondering if there’s any mileage left in getting back together. There’s a fuzzy guitar playout which serves to remind us that Rosie played every note on the album, and wonderfully so. There’s another excellent solo in ‘Alice Died’, whose breezy strum and catchy melody weirdly bring to mind The Carpenters, while ‘Distant Memory’ is a mid-paced growler with lyrics to match. ‘Malestroit Smile’ is a more experimental, playful instrumental with bass drum battling with dizzying organ for attention while there’s strident piano and a relentless beat coupled with more harmonies on ‘Robin Hood’s Stride’. Throughout the album, Rosie is in fine voice, adapting to the variety of musical backings confidently, whether it be on the playful and busy ‘I Forget to Breathe’ or on ‘Yes’ which veers from gently lilting to sing along in delightful manner.

‘The Look in Our Eyes’ is a wonderful example of how Rosie can pick out all the great bits of 60s and 70s pop music and roll them up into something that is unmistakeably hers, while initially I thought ‘I Was a Mess’ may have been the third in a trilogy of songs that started with the drinking song ‘One More Glass’ and was followed up by ‘I Feel Like Hell’ on the second album. But now I’m not so sure. The 60s influences are again there in ‘I Miss You’ with some Ringo style drumming and a ‘Je t’aime’ type bass line adding to the psychedelic keyboards and dreamy vocal, and also in the fluid guitar of ‘Erased’ which closes the album with a belter of song. This album certainly warrants the exposure which, undeservedly, bypassed its predecessors. Release date is October 2nd on Bandcamp, link below to a track from the album.

An act that’s been around a wee bit longer than any of the above are Dislocation Dance, who have new release due on German Shepherd Records on October 30th. I first saw the bands play on an all-day bill at the Lyceum in London circa 1982 and have followed their intermittent recordings since. ‘Discombobulation’ is a seven track EP that’s being released to raise funds for founding member Ian Runacres son, Joel, who has been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. The aim is to try and extend Joel’s life for as long as possible with some pioneering but very expensive treatment. The album, due for release on October 30th, can be pre-ordered via the link below where you can hear two tracks immediately. Top quality, rubber limbed funk inflected with jazz and soul is the order of the day on these two tracks. Perhaps not as quirky as the early 80’s version, they ooze quality and class with elastic bass, soulful strings, choppy guitar and smooth vocals. How this band never became much bigger than they did is a mystery to me.  

And finally, a couple of new singles from locally based (to me at least) artists…

Cambridge based rapper Jay-D first came to my attention a couple of years ago with a track called ‘Penny’ which sampled a Smokie track to great effect. Latest single ‘Lost My Way’ is a more rhythm-based track dealing with the loss of direction and sense of purpose brought about by anxiety and self-doubt. It’s refreshing to have an artist being so open about personal struggles and putting it to positive use so eloquently. This continues a very promising run of releases from the young rapper.

One of the great things about doing the radio show is the number of people I’ve come across over the years who have bowled me over with their sheer enthusiasm for music, whether it’s creating their own or shouting out about others. One such character is Matt Reaction, a Bury St Edmunds based artist who I first met earlier this year at the Bury Sound competition. It seems an awful long time ago now. His passion is matched by his sense of humour and a winning personality that spills over into his own songs, many of which are paeans to the local musicians and scene he’s part of. His latest single, Anchors (written, sung and performed by himself) rattles along at breakneck speed and features some lovely wordplay and his signature self-deprecating wit. Concerning itself with how we all need anchors, those reliable supports in our lives, he proclaims ‘I don’t write loves songs but if I did, they’d probably sound a lot like this’. That it has some rock’n’roll whistling, a Stranglers style keyboard break and mentions Felixstowe endears it to me even more. You can hear it via the Soundcloud link below and it should be available on all the usual platforms this week- check Matt’s Facebook page for further details.