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

1695 words on new music (not including this title)

Being a Hull lad, I’m always keen to hear what’s going on musically in the place of my birth. It’s a funny old place- one of its most famous residents, Philip Larkin, apparently had a great affinity with Hull because of its ‘end of the line’ feel, while Wreckless Eric, another one-time resident, sang as only he can about the place in ‘Gateway to Europe’. I’m immensely proud to be from Hull and it’s wonderful to see the music scene in the City take off over the last few years. Part of the reason for that is the work done at the Warren Youth Centre and the associated Warren Records label, which has encouraged and released music by young, local musicians for around ten years or so. A highlight of their release schedule was Three Minute Heroes, a compilation album featuring many local artists who wrote songs around lyrics provided by school children in the area. Those lyrics dealt with issues around mental health, the pains of growing up, abuse, family break ups etc and formed a powerful and emotional statement. A second volume has just been released, expanding on those themes while concentrating on the words of the children from one particular school. On the first few listens, it’s just as impressive as its predecessor. Opening track ‘Where to Begin’ is a folk stomper which addresses the difficulties of making an impression when self confidence is low while the urgent drive of ‘Brexit’s a Swimming Pool’ appears to be about the growing awareness of and trying to making sense of the wider political issues of the day. The music is wonderfully varied- check the funk/soul of Young Jack, the fuzzy guitar assault of Finno, the chiming guitar pop of Peccary, the edgy, warped blues of Tom Skelly and Jodie Langford’s spoken word over brooding electronica. Meanwhile the lyrics cover the whole gamut of emotions from sadness, heartbreak, anger and despair to helplessness and bafflement. It all might seem doom and gloom, but there are moments of happiness and dark humour and the fact that young people have been given a platform to express themselves so freely should be seen as a massive positive. Songs to provoke discussion, encourage understanding and make a difference.

https://warrenrecordsuk.bandcamp.com/album/three-minute-heroes-vol-2?from=embed

At the other end of the M62 motorway from Hull, Loop Aznavour has been releasing music for many years under various guises, often working with other musicians in the Manchester area as well as releasing a slew of solo albums. His work with Ian Moss and Adventures of Salvador have been particularly impressive, the latter featuring his theremin as well as his brilliant vocal delivery over an impressive post punk guitar and keyboard assault. His latest release, ‘In the Fireplace’ highlights another side of his music, being a decidedly less confrontational and, dare I say, more daytime radio friendly affair, though not without the odd poke in the eye lyrically speaking. The trademark delivery is still there, the rolling of the Rs and the growling of some syllables, but this time backed by upbeat 60s psychedelic pop, a hint of Northern Soul and a touch of Vegas glitz. It’s a right rollicking, toe tapping delight.

https://loop-aznavour.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-fireplace-with?from=embed

Nowhere near the M62, Christian Gustafsson has been plying his trade for a good number of years. I first came across him when he collaborated with Tony Jenkins of Cambridge based The New Fools, working under the name of Kammahav. It came as some surprise to find out his original band, Victorian Tin, were actually formed around 30 years ago in Sweden. Well, they have a new EP out and it’s really very good. Opening track Chagall starts off like some chamber pop instrumental before bursting into life as a driving slice of Americana, which wasn’t what I expected having heard Kammahav and knowing what I do about Tony Jenkins. Neither did I expect ‘Above Our Heads’ to be what it is. A delicately picked guitar, followed by another delicately picked guitar, gently tinkled piano, exquisitely bowed strings and the fading in and out of ambient noise and what sounds like a snippet of chat from a radio station as the dial sweeps across an old analogue receiver. It all adds up to a rather sweet and melancholy sound which drifts nonchalantly away once it’s reached its elegant peak. ‘Silver and Perfume’ is another left turn, gliding along on shoegazey guitar, a relentless bass line and a couple of excellent instrumental breaks. The radio dial twiddling appears again towards the end of this track. Final track ‘Borders’ has a more folky sound with some striking lyrical imagery at play. With some rather lovely viola, this track is probably the emotional highpoint of the EP, which can be listened to and purchased via the link below.

https://victoriantin.bandcamp.com/album/victorian-tin?from=embed

Another band Tony Jenkins has worked with is Lizard Brain. More of a studio band than a live concern, they’ve really developed their songcraft and studio wizardry over the last few years, each member of the trio bringing something different to the overall sound. I’ve previously likened them to 10cc, which I think is a good comparison on several levels: for Strawberry Studios (where 10cc recorded their albums), read Richard Howells Jones home studio in a remote location just outside Cambridge; both bands have/had several songwriters/songwriting teams; there’s a breadth of music and willingness to explore with both acts. Lizard Brains last album, ‘Stray’, was one of my favourite releases of the last few years and their latest two tracks continue a great run of releases, pushing their song writing to come up with two tracks that don’t sound like anything they’ve done before. ‘Othering’ has a dirty great riff with piledriving drums and a horn like section (I’ve given up trying to guess how they get some sounds in the studio) providing the backing to a set of lyrics which appear to be decrying the attitude of those in power, whose mantra is to divide through blame and alienation. The second track, ‘Round and Round’ packs so much into its three and a half minutes, it should be in the Guinness Book of Records. There’s a manic drum and bass type rhythm throughout, Prodigy style keyboards, a breathless vocal (Tony Jenkins?), what sounds like a glockenspiel solo (another guess- I can’t help myself), an increasingly manic rap and more weird keyboards building to a delirious finish that leaves you hitting the skip back button so you can have another listen. The boys have done good- again. Release date is the end of the month, check out more about the band here.

Staying in Cambridge, there’s a new single from Keltrix, the band formed around the not insignificant talents of Keri Kel and Sharon Sullivan. It’s the title track from an album due to be released next year called ‘Herstory’, which, as the succinct blurb that comes with the release says ‘is a concept album…which targets the harm patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and capitalism has done… from the perspective of survivors of rape, domestic/child abuse and multiple sexual assaults. Herstory is for survivors and encourages those who have not, to be brave, seek help and speak out. Silence protects abusers, the more we say the less power they have.’ Keltrix perform a rare but highly effective blend of celtic folk and electronica with the distinctive and powerful vocals of Keri and the violin of Sharon well to the fore. The club beats that they both love are also well to the fore along with some stirring keyboards and inventive, invigorating and invasive guitar from former Broken Family Band man, Jay Williams. They have a knack for writing songs that can switch effortlessly between brooding and physical to soaring and cerebral. It’s a heady mix musically, powerful lyrically and bodes extremely well for the album. No link to the release yet, but lots of band info here and links to previous releases here.

https://keltrix.uk/

Last up for now, a mention for the wonderful Terry Edwards, a man who can play two saxophones at once (not to mention trumpet, flugelhorn, guitar and keyboards- no, not at the same time, though I wouldn’t put it past him with a bit of practise) and has played on some of the most iconic tunes of the last 40 years. I first saw Terry circa 1982 when he was a member of The Higsons, who also featured Fast Show member and ‘Young Bond’ author Charlie Higson. I was lucky enough to interview Terry a couple of years ago following the release of the debut album by one of his many vehicles, The Near Jazz Experience, and he had some wonderful stories to tell, which is what you might expect from one who has worked across so many genres with so many different musicians. Well, to celebrate his sixtieth Birthday, a triple cd of 60 tracks featuring Terry has been released. It’s a tremendous mix of bands he’s played in (the aforementioned The Higsons, Near Jazz Experience, Terry Edwards and the Scapegoats etc) featuring original material and an eccentric selection of covers (Tom Waits, The Cure, Jimi Hendrix etc) plus a number of collaborations (Paul Cuddeford, David Coulter, The Nightingales etc) and some quality bands who have enlisted his services (The Blockheads, Franz Ferdinand, Lush etc). The real delights for me were the tracks I’d not heard before, such as ‘Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb on Me’ with Erika Stucky and ‘The Suckers Bug’ with Big Joan. With everything from pop, funk, soul and jazz to punk, indie, avant-garde and orchestral, it’s like hitting shuffle on a history of music from the last 40 years.

https://terryedwards.bandcamp.com/album/the-very-best-of-very-terry-edwards?from=embed

That’s enough for now, I need to lay down and listen to some of this music again before I move on to the next batch of cds/downloads in the pile, which include new releases by The Sound of Pop Art and Anton Barbeau among others. It’s a tough life, re-training as a music blogger after years in a proper job. Keep listening folks, it’ll help keep a grip on reality, despite what some people might think, and may just help a musician sustain his/her passion for a while.