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singles/eps - january 2016


Astronauts - 'Civil Engineer'

If you read what other reviewers have written about Dan Carney, whose musical alias is a plural one, you might expect ambient soundscaping, electronica and other esoteric meanderings but 'Civil Engineer' is a tightly played and smartly produced song about, yes actually about civil engineers, those hitherto unsung heroes of council building departments, the designers of roadways, of bridges, of tall buildings, without whom our civilisation would collapse into a dusty pile of rubble. 'I'm the one they call upon / when things go wrong in the town' sings Dan, and the music reflects this lyrical vision of the continuing efforts of planning committees, architects and town councils to fill those potholes while minimising disruption to traffic. 'Civil Engineer' clicks and spins like a very well oiled machine, reminiscent of (among others) Doves and Athlete in its electronically fuelled articulacy.


Will Varley - 'Seize The Night'

If you've already heard 'Seize The Night' you won't need to read this review but, if you haven't, then I really need to alert you to the presence of one of the most significant singer songwriters of recent years, and Will Varley has some competition in that department from such as Jake Bugg, Passenger and others but, probably quite deliberately, he has written an absolute classic of a song, one that is going to be heard by a very large number of people in the next year or two, a song as memorable as James Blunt's 'You're Beautiful', as Poison's 'Every Rose Has Its Thorn', Crowded House's 'Fall At Your Feet'', the Stone's 'Wild Horses', the kind of song that music careers are made with. Whether it goes that far for Will Varley isn't yet known, but 'Seize The Night' is quite definitely going to find its way into the open mike session repertoire in only a few months from now, just as soon as everyone figures out that opening chord sequence.


The 1975 - 'The Sound'

I had some very critical things to say about the 1975 last month, with their single 'Ugh' not getting any kind of positive reaction from me but after listening to 'The Sound' I am altering my opinion significantly. A slightly above average electropop tune with yet another weirdly twisted lyric, rhyming 'junkie wannabe' with 'epicurean philosophy' and I'm getting the idea. The 1975 are the most innovative band of their generation, with that glossy shopping mall powerpop muzak and a lyric that you didn't quite hear first time, subverting the mainstream from within and with the practised ease of bona fide superstars that can easily afford to send up themselves, their audience, the music industry and the entire Hollywood Boulevard book of clichés with practised relish. Doesn't mean you've got to like them though. The Tubes / Sex Pistols / Robbie Williams got away with it and the 1975 don't care a lot about what I or anyone thinks about them either.


5 to 4 – Tip It EP

U.K.-based singer-songwriter and musician Phil Goss records under the name 5 to 4 and he just self-released a 3-song EP titled Tip It on January 12th. It was produced by both George Atkins (‘Tip It’ and ‘It’s Not That It’s Not’) at 80 Hertz Studios in Manchester and Sam Parkinson (the instrumental ‘Walk’) at Stonegate Studios in North Yorkshire.

Goss actually released his debut album, Dream Diary, a decade ago and has only now recommenced his foray into the music world. He translates his interest in progressive electronic sounds on the 3 tracks of Tip It, plying an adult contemporary style on the two songs with vocals and a more experimental take with his instrumental. The title song hums along with repeatedly punched piano notes, a steady beat, and Goss’s medium range tone. He sings urgently that “…the stars fade in and out / over the edge.” Via Goss’s lyrics, he searches for what is beyond what we can see and feel as the piano notes become darker and little electronic squiggles flit about.

On the piano-driven ballad ‘It’s Not That It’s Not’ Goss becomes a reflective balladeer. Subdued symphonic strings are pulled in the background at the beginning before bright piano notes take over, along with strummed acoustic guitar and other stringed instruments and a fuzzier trip-hop beat. Goss sings in a clearly enunciated and halting tone that “It’s not that it’s not that anymore / It’s just that the rules have changed.” The sing-talking vocal delivery Goss adopts on the verses of ‘It’s Not That It’s Not’ is reminiscent of David Bowie’s distinctive intonation.

The instrumental ‘Walk’ employs keening, flute-like synth notes and tinkering metal percussion during its stark start before it opens up with starry synth runs, a thumbed bass line, and the sharp press of high-pitched woodwind notes. At its end it switches over to a simple pattern of a few plunked piano notes, heightened synths notes, and the contemplative plucking of a stringed instrument.

Jen Dan

Colour - 'Nowhere'

This is interesting. Colour have a lot of Yes albums in their collection, and mixing that influence with their already accomplished surf pop sound and an oddly bleak lyric - ' forget the ideal / for this exists nowhere / this exists for no one' also recalls Yes in their more obscure philosophical theorisings. Musically complicated and probably a shortened version of a fifteen minute three part epic of a track, just add some lengthy instrumental solos and speed that vocal up, and 'Nowhere' could slide into an expanded reissue of 'Relayer' without difficulty.


The Frisbys - 'Waves'

Twin sisters Helen and Nicola have been making music together for, like ages, and 'Waves' is a purposefully arranged piano ballad that gradually brings other instruments as the song progresses, first there's the piano, then the drums and bass appear, then there's a trumpet and towards the end a violin makes an appearance before the song ends with just vocal and piano again. Reminiscent of, variously, Tori Amos, Fleetwood Mac and Throwing Muses.


Fleurie - 'Sirens'

I know little of Fleurie herself but 'Sirens' has ensured that hers is a name that is destined to find itself placed comfortably within the box marked 'memorable. Right from its darkly brooding intro, through its drum and bass led crescendos, right up to its overwhelmingly dramatic orchestral ending, everything about 'Sirens works spectacularly, and Fleurie's vocal provides a subtle counterpoint to the epic qualities of the music. Much more like this and I think Fleurie could find herself contemplating actual stardom. of the very large scale sort.


Slow Culture - 'Hoax'

Something a bit unusual going on with Slow Culture, their mid paced stoner rock contains a sound that doesn't usually appear on the sort of laid back late night session tune that 'Hoax' is. Then I find out that among their instrumentation lurks a bass synth, which is possibly the unidentifiable sound that resembles a slide guitar played through a chorus pedal. Or perhaps it is that. A bit less of the Kurt-isms and Slow Culture might really be onto something.


Josephine Foster - 'A Thimbleful Of Milk'

It took me approximately 1 minute and fifty seconds to really hear what Josephine Foster is about. It needs to be said that her voice is of the archly exaggerated Kate Bush school of vocalising, and for around half of the duration of 'A Thimbleful Of Milk' I wasn't even quite sure what language she was using. Then at the 1.49 mark I can suddenly hear the song, its guitar and mandolin interplay, and Foster's voice takes on a sudden clarity. Obviously a highly skilled and adventurous performer (expect to hear interpretations of words by James Joyce and Rudyard Kipling on her upcoming album), Josephine Foster's voice is, it does sound a little deliberately, something of an acquired taste for those that can hear what she brings to her songs and songwriting, although no less charming and musically eloquent for that.


Wooden Indian Burial Ground - 'Burnout Beach'

I was half expecting a rewrite of 'Rockaway Beach' but this is more grunge than garage punk and, I cannot quite figure what it is really about, as a bearded rollerskater heads off for the actual Burnout Beach (it's near Sacramento) on his rollerskates. And that's about it from a band with a name that makes nearly as much sense as their song and video. Someone at the New York Times likes them so I suppose they must really have it going for them.


Tuff Love – ‘Duke’

Julie and Suse of Scottish duo Tuff Love play self-described “aggressively melodic” songs and have released 3 EPs so far titled Junk, Dross, and the latest Dregs, which came out in November on Lost Map. Debut album Resort is scheduled for release February 5th or thereabouts and excitement is high for it. The duo’s latest single from off the Dregs EP, ‘Duke’, is a prime example of Julie and Suse’s perfect pairing of tuneful indie pop and more gritty indie rock.

Julie’s light and sweet vocals glide over the tempestuous cymbals hits, running drum beat, and wiry strum of guitars. She wistfully coos about an “awkward” situation, questioning “What’s it all about?” while backed by frothy cymbal ticks, an angular guitar pattern, and pushy drum beat. Her vocals are twinned with Suse’s on the chorus bits, creating some lovely double-tiered vocal harmonizing.

Jen Dan

Turin Brakes - 'Keep Me Around'

I was just thinking that 'Summer Rain' (better known as 'Pain Killer') was such an anthem of the previous decade that it might have taken Turin Brakes over a decade to record a follow up, with the idea going something like 'if we wait until after 2015, that's about fourteen years after we released that one song we did that everyone remembers, so perhaps by now we can relaunch the band without everyone shouting 'Summmer Rain' whenever we play a show'. Sorry Turin Brakes, but that might not entirely work as planned.


Violet Days – ‘Screaming Colors’

The indie pop band Violet Days is based in Stockholm, Sweden and is fronted by Lina Hansson. She brings a vividly emotive streak to the band’s latest single, ‘Screaming Colors’, a bold dance-pop track that would fit like a glove at the top of the pop charts. The chorus flies by with its big, anthemic chorus with Hansson exclaiming “Let’s live our life in screaming colors!” amid sharply reverberating electronic notes and a hard-smacked drum beat. The tune is upbeat and uplifting, buoyed by its message of individuality and diversity, and backed by energetic sonics and enthusiastic vocals from Hansson.

Jen Dan

The 1975 - 'Ugh'

I had the 1975 filed alongside the Vaccines and one or two other bands as 'stadium rock that is a bit cool' but I don't like 'Ugh' very much, the combination of its expensive looking video, the less than convincing attempt at a Red Hot Chilli Peppers riff and the song lyric, with its 'he's just a simple diabetic' proving too much for my previous estimation of a band that, in fairness, I don't really know a lot about. Some of you like the 1975 more than I do so you'll download 'Ugh' anyway, but I derived more actual pleasure from the cleverly pieced together press release for 'Ugh' than from actually listening to it.


Swahili Blonde – ‘Rose My Emperor’

Swahili Blonde is the odd moniker of one Nicole Turley and her latest single, ‘Rose My Emperor’, is awash in the off-kilter, lo-fi pop sonics that Turley is known for. It’s one of 8 new tunes from her upcoming album, And Only The Melody Was Real, which will be released on January 22nd on Neurotic Yell Records. Much of Turley’s music seems to exist in a dreamstate that borders reality, from the unusual time signatures and instrumentation to Turley’s esoteric lyrics and sometimes mysterious vocal delivery. Her latest album is an especially personal one as she has dealt with the aftermath of divorce through her music.

Perky and clacking percussion runs through ‘Rose My Emperor’, while synth lines also unwind through stabs of strings and Turley’s direct, sing-talking vocals as she intones “She is an emperor of love.” Turley is working through her emotionally tumultuous state on record and she takes the listener along for the cryptic and experimental ride.

Jen Dan

Matmos - 'Excerpt Five'

Apparently releasing their 'Ultimate Care II' album in segments, Matmos seem to quite genuinely evoke the heady days of, well, I am unsure exactly when sampled recordings of kitchen appliances and grainy public information film collages were really what you could have called groundbreaking, but Matmos recapture the experimentalism of that era with the sort of skill and attention to detail that suggests that if they decided to make their own washing machines, fridges, cookers, toasters etc, that they'd be really good at it.


Plastic Yellow Band – ‘Dressed In Her Lace’

Singer-songwriter Gerald Jennings is the artist from South Carolina behind the classic rock project Plastic Yellow Band and his latest album, Above Gravity, was released near the end of 2015 on ISI Music. On Above Gravity, Jennings blends his love of 1960s-70s musical artists with modern progressive rock. The album contains 9 tracks of electric guitar-based rock and piano ballads composed by Jennings and brought to life by him (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and the supporting studio musicians Joe Smith (guitar), Joe Hurt (bass), and Karl Derrick Tesch (drums).

One of the most affecting songs is the last one on Above Gravity, the reflective piano ballad ‘Dressed In Her Lace’. Light and softly contemplative piano notes open the track, along with gently pulled synth strings. A measured beat and acoustic guitar strum are added with Jennings subsequently coming in, directly and clearly sing-talking the bittersweet lyrics “Her heart gently weeps / She waits for relief / dressed in her lace.” Jennings has dedicated his album to everyone who has lost someone they have deeply loved and he captures the melancholic sentiments of loss and memory on this song.

Jen Dan


Chords of Truth – ‘Dreams’

Singer-songwriter Jason Garriotte hails from South Florida and brings a warm, easy-going charm to his music that he records until the name Chords of Truth. He works in the acoustic-folk tradition where his words are as important as his sound, and maybe even more so. Garriotte released his single, ‘Dreams’, this past December. He has previously delivered his 7-song Reflections of Reality EP and a slew of remixes of those tracks that were re-shaped by various electronic artists.

Garriotte keeps it simple and direct on ‘Dreams’, letting his troubadour vocals, acoustic guitar strum, and reverberating piano notes (courtesy of producer Jef Joslin) shine. At times he’s backed by ethereal vocals, but the emphasis is mainly on his perceptive lyrics like “Life is full of endless dreams / with potential to come true…” and “Wisdom must be acquired / before it is known.” Garriotte’s music has a message, sometimes bittersweet and sometimes uplifting, about the lives we lead and what we can accomplish if we put our time and effort into making our dreams come true. We have to be mindful of how to create a better world for ourselves and for the future.

Jen Dan