Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Discuss: #Hashtags in Music

Including hashtags in song lyrics/titles/videos is just blatant commercialism and forced marketing.

Discuss.

The often-derided Justin Bieber added fuel to the fire when his song "#thatpower" was released, which also had Will.i.am's involvement (whose recent album was called "#willpower"), and was certainly considered to be a somewhat tacky attempt to create a buzz. I'm not sure that he was the first to release a song with a hashtag as the title (the most likely contender appears to be Cobra Starship with "#1nite") but he's definitely one of the more well-known. Mariah Carey also jumped on the bandwagon this year with "#beautiful", a hashtag that was always frequently used anyway so may well have been a pointless choice.

Although not quite the same, last year the third album from the band Reverend & The Makers just used there Twitter account name as the title (@Reverend_Makers). Perhaps they just wanted to gain followers, but it could easily be argued that there was more than a little irony present: the band's music often takes shots at modern life and that could well have been just an extension of that.

Personally, I'm not entirely opposed to hashtags appearing in music videos, and people often tweet about particular songs they like or are listening to, so a provided hashtag for uniform use is convenient from a "social media" perspective as well as clearly smart marketing for the record company/artist/etc. I'd definitely welcome it being done in a more subtle manner though. A lot of TV programmes now flash up a hashtag at the start for those people feeling the need to post about it (Have I Got News For You was the first I noticed - #HIGNFY), so something like that seems perfectly fine to me. But many might say that it has become a little gratuitous of late.

Robin Thicke's video for "Blurred Lines" is definitely the current offender, with blatant hashtags throughout the video. Although again, arguably, this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek due to his name surprisingly trending earlier this year when people were comparing his music to a new release from Justin Timberlake: "Suit & Tie". The hashtag inclusion could well be a statement along the lines of, "This time... It is definitely me". And the overblown, full-screen nature of each word may well be laughing at its own presence.

I'm sure if some independent, home-recorded and self-funded artist stuffed a hashtag in their video or title in order to improve their chances at being spotted on social media then the tuts and sighs would be considerably less (although perhaps not entirely absent). But because the likes of Bieber and Will.i.am are already hugely successful and assumed to be wealthy, then their shameless self-promotion is more heavily frowned upon than the likes of Joe Bloggs doing acoustic sets in the local pubs every night in order to sell his record.

However, I have to admit that I do cringe a little whenever I see a song appear with the # in front of it, as it often comes across as purely an attempt to gain further exposure. An attempt that, in most cases, is rarely necessary. Furthermore, giving social media users something pre-defined to group their posts is probably not entirely necessary, as most are savvy enough to form their own just as effectively.

The latest single from Rizzle Kicks includes the line "hashtag trend" slotted within lyrics that take pot shots at the media, and modern consumption of it. In this instance, it is safe to say that the duo included the words as a knowing reference to this recent habit.

Perhaps it is outright, shameless promotion. It's forced, eager, and often smells of desperation, but the hashtag is also the fashion of current social media. Perhaps, given time, its use will die out as more popular sites start up, and those songs that include them will just feel dated. In the meantime, my preference would be that song titles are devoid of the hashtag, and videos keep things low-key.

What do you think?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Cultfever - Animals

Since their debut self-titled LP was released at the tail-end of 2011, Cultfever's follow up has been eagerly awaited, with pulses ready to race and feet ready to dance to their unique brand of high-powered electronic pop. 'Animals', expected to be included on their second album, was let loose back in February this year, but has been receiving deserved attention once again since a new video appeared in June.

Brooklyn-based duo Tamara Jafar and Joe Peter Durniak appear to live and breathe music, and specifically show dedication to their own creations with obsessive-amounts of time spent recording and working on new material. This commitment clearly pays off, and is enjoyably evident in 'Animals'; a beat-happy track with no small-amount of cheery synth and dynamic vocals. Durniak's arrangement and production is top-notch, and Jafar's voice moves comfortably throughout the imaginative lyrics from a breathy and sultry delivery of a verse to a sudden powerful call.

'Animals' is an irresistible, groove-filled example of Cultfever's abilities.



Official: cultfever.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cultfever
Twitter: twitter.com/cultfever
Bandcamp: cultfever.bandcamp.com/
YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/cultfever

"I was the drunk rhythm guitarist who wrote all these weird songs." - Robert Smith

Thursday, 8 August 2013

There's Talk - Tiny Strands EP

Initially conceived as a solo project by multi-instrumentalist Olivia Lee, the addition of Kellen Balla and Young Lee turned There's Talk into a three-piece. Following on from their first single in May, this week has brought us the release of their debut EP 'Tiny Strands'.

A band combining folk and electronic elements, this is no more apparent than in the opening track (and single) 'The Salt', where the fragility in Olivia's vocals are beautifully accompanied by - to begin with - just the steady and simple steps on a piano. An occasional drumbeat marks each line like a lamenting heartbeat.

 And you walked on your own
 Heart out... teared.

As we reach the middle, and head towards a beautiful and bitter-sweet ending, further electronic drum loops are added; a mix that could have felt disjointed and too unfamiliar, yet instead manages to sound appropriately thought-provoking.

'Lint And Feather' is perhaps more traditionally folk with a guitar and banjo taking the spots as the key instruments, coupled with soft harmonies throughout the woebegone words.

 And I lied to you
 And I tried to lose you

Placed at the centre of the EP, 'Hummingbird Place' takes a very defined turn two minutes in. The picks and strums upon the guitar are pushed aside without warning, as synth and drums take over. Even the vocal delivery adjusts, bringing a more serious tone as the final lines reaffirm what the instruments have declared:

 Everything changes
 In this hummingbird place

Penultimate track 'Slip Light Gold' feels purposely restrained as though the song is tentatively circling, searching for a chance to declare itself, to find the chance to speak up. The music builds through crescendos, only to fade again and give space to the gently haunting voice that inches towards its proclamation. This is a song that tells a story as much through its careful arrangement as its lyrics.

In contrast, the closing track 'Tiny Strands' is a lot more direct in its quest. Lacking the depth of imagery and metaphor that its predecessors explored, the words are quickly clear and all meaning is succintly revealed.

 I need to know what I mean to you 
 So long ago since I felt the truth 
 And if there's another 
 Won't you let me know 
 And I'll stop waiting for you 

These earnest messages are projected with the movements of a subdued guitar as we reach the climax, where melancholic harmonies of "oohs" and "aahs" create a chilling, and saddening, aural envelope.

This debut EP reaches a hand out to your emotions, beckoning you to take a trip... a trip that may well be sombre and grave, but one that is also breathtaking, moving, and addictive.



Bandcamp: therestalk.bandcamp.com
Facebook: facebook.com/TheresTalk
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/therestalk
Tumblr: therestalk.tumblr.com/
Twitter: twitter.com/therestalk
Instagram: instagram.com/therestalk

"You must pass your days in song. Let your whole life be a song" - Sai Baba

Monday, 5 August 2013

Marking Marks - Barcodes

A few songs manage to pull me in immediately, when a wonderful intro promises something special. Sometimes, admittedly, I end up feeling that those first few bars were sadly all the track had to offer. Occasionally, I'm treated to a journey that is a constant pleasure throughout. The latest single from Norway's Making Marks (previously known as mylittlepony) definitely offers me the latter.

"Barcodes" begins with a gentle guitar riff that manages to flutter the heart within just a few notes, somehow calling up wistful emotions far easier - and quicker - that one might expect. The male/female vocals that follow are harmonised beautifully, singing of heartache and a return home, and always delivered with a smooth and modest tone.

With an album expected very soon, Making Marks have caught my attention in a gentle and fascinating way: "Barcodes" sounds like falling in love.


Official: makingmarks.com
Tumblr: makingmarksofficial.tumblr.com
Facebook: facebook.com/makingmarks
Twitter: twitter.com/makingmarx
Bandcamp: makingmarks.bandcamp.com
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/making-marx
Label: http://fikarecordings.com/

"Drums usually seem to tune themselves" - Levon Helm 

Friday, 2 August 2013

The Understudies - Erika K

The latest single from London-based guitar-band The Understudies may be just a few breaths over two minutes long, but 'Erika K' can be suitably labelled as "short and sweet". The track and its video have been floating around online for a few months now, along with promises of a debut album, but this week marked the song's official release and is a perfect excuse to listen once again.

Wonderfully catchy and fun, 'Erika K' bounces enjoyably with a tale of hormonally-charged adoration. The sounds of the dinging glockenspiel and emphatic trumpet keep the spirits high throughout whilst lead singer Brian Bryden's vocal delivery is spot on.



Bandcamp: theunderstudiesuk.bandcamp.com
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/the-understudies-1
Twitter: twitter.com/Under_studies
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/The-Understudies/104864633435
Label: oddboxrecords.com/

"Like family, we are tied to each other. This is what all good musicians understand." - Billy Joel

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Our Krypton Son - Gargantuan

Our Krypton Son's eponymous debut album went down a storm following its release in November last year, showcasing the songwriting talents of man-at-the-helm Chris McConaghy. With a possible new EP rumoured for later this year, third single 'Gargantuan' was released last month to keep us all happy during the interim.

McConaghy's vocals are typically restrained at first, delivering the verses with a low Bowie-esque ease that then parts to give space to a thrilling jump in register and volume for the chorus - a perfect, and smart display of contrast for a song about the immense glories and trials of relationships.

'Gargantuan' is a rousing, thumping crusade driven by an infectious piano-bashing beat, leading us to a final explanation of its march within the last lyrics of the song.

 "And the whole world trembles when my love stomps
 And the asphalt shatters when my love stomps"

A stand-out track from the album, this is a well-chosen single accompanied by a pair of b-sides that flaunt McConaghy's stylistic range: the acoustic and collected 'Bring the Flood', and the Procol Harum-harnessing 'How Long Must I Dream'.



Tumblr: fleasanddiamonds.tumblr.com
Facebook: facebook.com/pages/Our-Krypton-Son/185903978117238
Twitter: twitter.com/Our_Krypton_Son
Label: smalltownamerica.co.uk/artists/our-krypton-son
YouTube: youtube.com/user/OurKryptonSon
SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/chris-mcconaghy

"To stand up on a stage alone with an acoustic guitar requires bravery bordering on heroism. Bordering on insanity" - Richard Thompson

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Alisha's Attic - Stay Will U Stay

Comprised of sisters Karen and Shelly Poole, Alisha's Attic were probably one of the first groups that I ever truly embraced: actively searching for all their singles, and repeatedly listening to their music. Their 1996 debut, 'Alisha Rules The World', is still one of my favourite albums and I continue to play it regularly (and not just as a nostalgic attempt to remember when I was a teenager). Soon after their third album in 2001, 'The House We Built', they were sadly dropped by Mercury Records and the duo ceased recording together.

Four years later, I discovered that a fourth self-produced album had been made available by the girls. 'The Attic Vaults 1' (a 'Vaults 2' was apparently planned) was a collection of previously unreleased songs that had never made it onto their previous albums, and so the tracks were put together as a final thank-you to their fans. Needless to say, I bought a copy as quickly as possible and soaked up the "new" music.

The penultimate tune, 'Stay Will U Stay', is the stand-out track for me and definitely deserved to have reached a wider audience, although it is difficult to find a place for it amongst the songs on their three albums. With just piano accompanying the sisters' always-beautiful harmonies, the track feels stripped back and raw, a sound that is complemented fully by the sincere lyrics. Perhaps if it had been included on a previous release then further instrumentation may have been added during production, but I am glad that it has remained as it is: a tender, gorgeous reminder of what Karen and Shelly Poole achieved together.


As with Nik Kershaw's 'So Quiet', 'Stay Will U Stay' is on the list of music I intend to transcribe into a piano score one day.

Since Alisha's Attic, both of the sisters have remained in the music industry: Karen has successfully written for many other musicians whilst Shelly has also continued to record, both as a solo artist and in current band Red Sky July.

Alisha's Attic:

Karen Poole:

Shelly Poole:

"Songwriting's a weird game" - Keith Richards

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Minko - Creature (Songs 5-8)

The second in a planned series of six EPs, 'Creature' follows on from its predecessor 'Sybil of Delphi' and provides the next songs from singer songwriter Minko. Initially exploring electronic music production, she decided a change was in order and moved from the hustle and bustle of London to the relative peace and quiet of Cornwall, where she surrounded herself with acoustic instruments and began to write and record. Over fifty songs were created, and 'Creature' is the collection of songs 5 to 8.

The opening title track is a live recording, featuring Steven Havenhand (late 80's Pulp guitarist) and Nick Duffy (The Lilac Time joint-founder) who provide assistance with guitars. Minko's layered vocals create a wide, spacious sound over the strums and picks, and is particularly enjoyable and evocative during the stretched interjections between verses.

Once the waltzing rhythm begins playing on the Fender Rhodes organ, the second track's title - 'Monsieur Zola's Amazing Carousel' - makes perfect sense: the melodica's involvement only serving to enhance the fairground-esque sound. Lyrically the song discusses how, in modern life, perhaps we have lost sight of life's meaning and have forgotten the many great steps and achievements that have brought us to where we are today. Name-dropping past philosphers, poets and writers, we are brought to the final lines which bring together the words and music beautifully:

 "If 'the child is father of the man',
 What would our ancestors say?
 If Freud and Buddha sat together on the merry-go-round
 And put the brakes on today?"

By contrast, third track 'Child Of Four' is lyrically sparse, but is no less indicative of Minko's often-haunting arrangements. The plink-plunk of the kalimba may continue the sense of innocence that the title suggests, but the rest of the instruments are more concerned with evoking a constant, but subtle, melancholy through a steady stream of repetition. Despite this, the song holds interest throughout until a thumb flicks the final note.

'The Owl Song' finishes the EP mostly as an instrumental, with Minko's voice present in just a few words and "da-da-da"s, but a story is still told nevertheless.

Compared to the previous release, 'Creature' is a darker collection of songs that sounds like it has been carefully nurtured amongst a broad range of musical influences. With her captivating voice and obvious skill at combining instruments to compliment her desired theme, Minko has brought us a mesmerising record.



YouTube: www.youtube.com/felinecreature
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Minko/185304241493861
Twitter: twitter.com/minkomusic
BandCamp: minko.bandcamp.com
SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/minkomusic
Official: minkomusic.wordpress.com/

"All music is folk music. I ain't never heard a horse sing a song." - Louis Armstrong

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Lambs & Wolves - Afraid Enough EP

A year since their last release, Lambs & Wolves return with their new EP 'Afraid Enough'. With this latest collection of four tracks the Waldshut, Germany-based fourpiece haven't strayed too far from the sounds of their previous work. The arrangements remain mostly light with a pleasing economy of instrumentation that, when coupled with the hushed and delicate vocals, provide us with a sound of subtle precision that's not often heard.

'Canada' is the stand-out track, quietly building through guitar strums, clarinet, and minimal piano to a glorious final quarter, whilst opener 'July's half-spoken half-sung lyrics provide a smart introduction to Lambs & Wolves' style.

'Lisa's Dream Of Getting Lost' serves us a subdued gleefulness in the drum's rhythm that sits behind a sad story of desperate escape from the past, echoed in the final whispered words. And final song 'The Fall', though the shortest of the tracks, eases us to the end of the EP with peaks and troughs of vocal harmony, piano, and clarinet.

'Afraid Enough', with its four songs of beautiful acoustic folk-pop, shows us a band that have found their style, and are now well into perfecting it.



Bandcamp: lambswolves.bandcamp.com
Facebook: facebook.com/lambsandwolves

"I look at my clarinet sometimes and I think, I wonder what's going to come out of there tonight? You never know." - Acker Bilk 

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Discuss: Recordings of Concerts

Listening to recordings of concerts is pointless at best and, more often than not, disappointing.

Discuss.

As Glastonbury Festival comes to an end today, and the BBC's live coverage with it, Radio 1 listeners shall no doubt be subjected to several hours' worth of recorded 'highlights' used to remind everyone just how great the experience was. And that's where my main complaint lies. A festival such as Glastonbury (and no, I haven't been) is all about the atmosphere formed within the endless crowds of music lovers. You don't need any qualifications to know that, generally, the musical performances themselves aren't always the best: there are a lot of out-of-breath-vocals, a lot of "let the crowd sing this bit" cop-outs, a lot of points where the note isn't quite hit.

I should just clarify that I do see the attraction and the enjoyment of gigs such as these. Music always has been for performing in a live environment, and should continue to be as such. The lack of production and audio touch-ups that might otherwise clean up a studio recording means the band are at their rawest, giving us a chance to assess their talents whilst they strut their stuff on the stage in front of us. It can be frenetic, magical, emotional, awe-inspiring...

But listening to a recording of the event is immensely anticlimactic. All the visual and atmospheric wonders of that moment are stripped away to leave a track that doesn't quite evoke the same excitement. Whilst, yes, music is an aural pleasure and perhaps nothing else is ordinarily necessary, a festival recording can rarely stand on its own with any real confidence.

Oh, but there are exceptions of course. Within my music collection lies concert recordings where bands have performed fantastic covers, or musicians have approached one of their owns songs in an entirely different way. These are worthy tracks: providing something that I would not otherwise be able to enjoy. But these exceptions are sadly few and far between.

And so tomorrow, when the BBC slots in another "classic set from the weekend" into the radio schedule, I'll be preparing myself to be disappointed.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Zords - Hollywood

Who doesn't love a bit of synth, right? Oh... you don't? Well, you're wrong.

Describing themselves as, "two brothers and a friend [who] found themselves in a basement filled with old synthesizers and some guitars and figured something had to be done about it," Ontario-based electro-rock band Zords have just released their second song. With an electronic drum-loop and minimal guitar providing the beat and a slowly pulsating synth drone giving the track a wider sound, 'Hollywood' succeeds at stepping into the light a little more eagerly than its somewhat darker predecessor 'Dungeon Master'.

Whether literal or metaphorical in meaning, 'Hollywood's lyrical story remains the same with a tale of lost hope and diminishing faith when once the dreams were ambitious.

"All you wanted was to make it big
Now your dreams have flown out to the sea"


With obvious nods to some great 1980s synthpop whilst keeping themselves away from plainly replicating what others have done before, 'Hollywood' shows that Zords have much more to share with us.



Bandcamp: zords.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/zordsband
Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/zords

"I turned the volume up to 10 and I hit one chord, and I said, I'm in love." - Ace Frehley

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Singing Sheep - Baa-Baa Black Sheep

When Richard Branson's Virgin Records made its first fortune with the million-selling 'Tubular Bells' from Mike Oldfield, the opportunities for the next step must have been countless, astonishing, heaven-sent...

Apparently not.

The company was still seen as being too small compared to the big names, so signing other groups was proving difficult.

Fortunately for my childhood, Branson made an interesting decision when his auntie, Claire Hoare, told him about the singing talents of one of her sheep. A crew of sound engineers went sent to her flock in Norfolk, and began recording the sheep in question - plus a collection of other farmyard animals.

Via the wonders of 80's technology, the baas, clucks, quacks, and moos were pitch-altered and spliced together to form a single that was released just in time for Christmas: "Baa-Baa Black Sheep". Beginning as just an ovine version of the nursery-rhyme, it follows a chicken-based crescendo with the inclusion of drums and synth and then, obviously, throws in a portion of Tchaikovsky's '1812 Overture' for good measure.

Oh, and the B-side? "Flock Around The Clock"

When the record was released in 1982, I was still three months away from being born. However, it somehow avoided being thrown out once the novelty had worn off, and so I had the pleasure of listening to it many times during my early years. I recall at least one member of my family finding the song "a little creepy".

I still own the record which remains in surprisingly good condition, especially considering my clumsy ways with the record player's stylus when I was a kid. Sadly I no longer have a turntable on which to play it, but YouTube (as always) provides the audio of my past.


"Baa" - A Sheep

Monday, 11 March 2013

Your Gentlemen - Dead, Almost

I'm a sucker for progressive tracks. I love that gradual build-up of instrumental layers as each brings a wider sound to it, until the crescendo hits its peak and the vocal comes in. Perhaps it is a clich├ęd way to approach song writing: possibly the outcome of working backwards from the chorus and trying to find a "way in". Regardless, I'm yet to tire of it and there are still bands out there that are doing it very well. New Jersey group Your Gentlemen are one of them.

Their first LP, 'Sincerely', provides a bountiful eleven songs of pleasing indie rock filled with great guitar effects, expansive moments of synth, and yearning vocals, but it's the progressive opening track 'Dead, Almost' that keeps me returning. Whilst some of the other tunes may offer more thematically and lyrically - and may well be "better" songs - 'Dead, Almost' is an excellent start to the album. The minimal guitar and light background drone carries us through to the first words, where the instruments then drop back a little, preparing themselves for another go when they will be met by the drums and cymbals.

The song peaks at just the right moment - fifteen seconds before the end - leaving just the appropriate amount of time to wind down to the final strum, and avoiding any sense of aimlessness that could occur with a lengthy diminuendo.

'Sincerely', as a whole, is begging for a listen with its impressive songs, but 'Dead, Almost' stands out especially as a fabulous beginning to Your Gentlemen's story.

If you visit their BandCamp page, you can still download for free their previous release 'Play Their Songs': a five-track EP which includes two songs from the album.


BandCamp: yourgentlemen.bandcamp.com
Facebook: facebook.com/yrgentlemen
Twitter: twitter.com/yourgentlemen
Official: yrgentlemen.com

"I just wrote one song at a time. Kinda like an alcoholic: One day at a time" - Neil Young

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Underwater Track Team - Underwater Track Team

Californian six-piece Underwater Track Team are a folk-pop band that proudly display their influences and are keen to draw upon them (Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Fleet Foxes, etc.), whilst still clearly trying to retain their individuality. Their self-titled debut EP, released this month, has been made available to download for free via their BandCamp page and offers five songs of plucky guitar and tight vocal harmonies.

Opening track 'The Call' is the band's elected single, and begins with the sounds of the beach before the strings begin to be strummed in the familiar folksy style. Soon accompanied by "oohs" and "aahs" and a drum-kit eager to be heard, the lyrics then begin to guide us down a carefree road of positive self-confidence.

"We're on the rise, You can't deny,
We hear the call.
We are the kings tonight,
We are the queens tonight."


Even without the shoreline and seagull samples, 'The Call' has a wonderful summery vibe to it that should be applauded for evoking such feelings during a cold and miserable March day.

The watery theme continues into the second track, 'Waves', which talks of fear and making mistakes - likening all the worries to the heavy pressure of water. Yet this song is more uplifting than might appear, and the final lines tell us why:

"I never know how far I'm going,
I only know how far I've come.
All the things that have been done,
To make me strong."

As we hit the middle of the EP there's a brief change of style. 'Set Me On Fire', with its smooth-jazz attitude, lounge-bar aura, and female lead vocal, certainly sticks out amongst its neighbouring folk-fests. Yet, lodged between them all as it is, the track provides a healthy and welcome contrast, and also proves that Underwater Track Team are no one-trick pony.

As we approach the end of the record, penultimate track 'It Won't Leave' is back in familiar territory and yet is almost certainly a high point of the EP. The haunting harmonies - particularly on the frequent "oohs" - are spine-tinglingly good (echoed, coincidentally, in the lyrics themselves) and when the piano hammers its way into the second half, the whole tune becomes a glorious example of what this band can do.

The EP ends with 'Keep The Light On'. Although perhaps a less adventurous track than the others, it's swaying rhythm and final drum beats bring the record to a satisfyingly comfortable close.

Recorded and produced in a way that keeps their sound live and untainted, this debut release has some fantastic highlights that are worthy of exploring.


BandCamp: underwatertrackteam.bandcamp.com
Twitter: twitter.com/UnderwaterTrack
Facebook: www.facebook.com/UnderwaterTrackTeam

"Being able to still make records is a privilege. I don't take it casually" - Tori Amos

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cantoo - Ivory Eyes

Originally a project begun as a outlet for Aaron Parker's creative backlog whilst he played in other bands, Edmonton-based Cantoo is now a fully-fledged band with a self-titled debut album looming. With a select handful of talented musical friends to assist, Aaron was able to put together the music that he felt an urge to create: free, thoughtful, and with appreciative nods to the 60's.

Generously, Cantoo has made three of the album's tracks available to download for free via their BandCamp page. Album opener 'Send In The Clouds' is a short (1:38) instrumental prelude that introduces some of the band's key aims and sounds, whilst 'Alabaster' is a five minute escalating crescendo of harmony driven with reliable drums.

'Ivory Eyes', however, is the track that clearly shows its 60's influences and gratitude. With some of the finest elements delicately plucked from the likes of Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, and The Walker Brothers, the song throws some carefree lyrics and guitar at you, with a slight psychedelic slant - gently encouraging you to lay back and soak up the music. Despite its keen nostalgia, it still keeps a foot held firmly in the present so that the tune doesn't sound dated before it has even had a chance to breathe.

I eagerly await the chance to hear the rest of what Cantoo's first album has to offer.


BandCamp: cantoo.bandcamp.com

"It's hard to be angry when you're listening to music" - Jerry Reed

Monday, 25 February 2013

Christopher Nelson - Older Hands

With a two-year gap since his last release, Nelson is quick to self-deprecate and offer explanation: "It's been about two years since I've gathered up the confidence to make acoustic music again... Apologies if it's not as good as previous or if there's things wrong with it, but if you stick around - I'll only try harder to get better."

Fortunately, there's really no need for him to say sorry. His latest track 'Older Hands' shows us (just as 2011's brief 'Songbook EP' did) that Nelson is a talented singer-songwriter, whose only real failing is not giving us enough to listen to. The instrumentation may not deviate far from a set of guitar strums and light picking but the sound of his voice gives us more than enough to appreciate via its rough, cracking crescendos and authenticity.

Christopher Nelson finds inspiration from the likes of Bon Iver, James Morrison and - more obviously - Damien Rice, yet manages to avoid any copycatting. The few songs he has provided us with so far show an enticing glimpse of his originality and ability, and hopefully there is yet more to come if this young man will let his guard down just a little.


BandCamp: christophernelson.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/cpnelsonmusic
Twitter: twitter.com/cpnelsonmusic
Tumblr: thelifeandtimesofcpnelson.tumblr.com
SoundCloud: soundcloud.com/christopher-nelson
YouTube: www.youtube.com/cpnelsonmusic
Artwork: cpnelson.bigcartel.com

"Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you." - Charlie Parker

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Night Beds - Ramona

Recording as Night Beds and due to release his debut LP in February on the Dead Oceans label, Winston Yellen seems to have spent the last two years searching for musical inspiration, and then making the very most of it. Despite already walking a musical path with three EPs under his belt, Yellen began feeling that his life had recently grown, "aimless [and] lacking direction." A period of moving from state-to-state and working menial jobs reached its end when a friend pushed him to return to Nashville and get himself back on track. Armed with a loan, he rented an out-of-town house that was previously owned by Johnny Cash and June Carter, and begun to write and record music once again.

The result is 'Country Sleep', an album that seems unable to deny the American roots in which it was conceived. And second single 'Ramona' is a perfect sample of Night Beds' country-inspired indie-pop/rock.

Each verse pleads, "Come on Ramona," with guitar slides and upbeat drums, all of which suddenly fall away at the chorus to isolate a set of vocals laced with a saddening distress. The instruments soon gather round once again to keep the song fighting its cause, until we reach the final glimmers of rekindled love and faith.

"With a heart that always fails,
My love's gone off all the rails,
I'm like a ship without a sail,
Drowning underneath the waves."
(full lyrics: http://bit.ly/LyrRam)

Compared to the more angst-ridden first single, 'Even If We Try', 'Ramona' has a more positive series of stops on its route. Even so, the emotional diversity remains and is a testament to Yellen's honed writing.




Lyrics: bit.ly/LyrRam

"Drums usually seem to tune themselves"- Levon Helm

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Spark Alaska - Feel The Flowers

It would be easy to spend a lifetime on YouTube finding videos of teenagers-with-guitars, all vying for our attention with their cover versions. It's even easier to make quick judgements about them and assume that they are all cut from the same cloth: more often than not it seems that their persistence and ego is larger than their talent.

Trawling through the Twitter and Tumblr feeds of YouTuber Lorenzo Cook - aka Spark Alaska - you may well assume that he fits the mould of his peers. But whilst his covers are mostly average, it's his original material that deserves considerably more attention.

Made available for free on BandCamp, 'Feel The Flowers' is his most recent offering and certainly his most impressive. With the steady strumming and picking of guitar, glorious vocal harmonies, and tuneful whistles, the first minute comes astonishingly close to harnessing Simon & Garfunkel - and in the best possible way. The song soon spreads its wings a little wider with a defiant chorus that doesn't let itself be entirely restrained by Lorenzo's youth, and the lyrics somehow manage to avoid ever sounding contrived despite the flurry of imagery.

In a just world, 'Feel The Flowers' would be the start of a journey for Spark Alaska; signifying the moment when creativity overtook imitation and success bloomed as a result. Whether Lorenzo is searching for a career in music or not, this newest tune suggests that he has a better chance than many, and it is hoped that he continues to explore his own artistic abilities more regularly for our enjoyment.


Facebook: www.facebook.com/SparkAlaska
Bandcamp: sparkalaska.bandcamp.com
Tumblr: idrownideas.tumblr.com
Twitter: twitter.com/sparkalaska

"Ruling piano keys is harder than ruling a whole kingdom" - Yazan Haddadin