As one with an innate suspicion about algorithms and their effects on modern living, I usually don’t pay too much attention to ‘recommended for you’ internet prompts. Like much of the advertising that pops up unrequested as you browse, these are often wildly off the mark, commonly insensitive and even bizarre. To quote a much-shared example of a ‘malgorithm’, no, I really don’t want tampons to be endorsed as I await Slayer’s “Raining Blood” on YouTube.
Yet, to dispel any impression that I am totally a closed shop to suggestions, the occasional recommendation can hit the target. I hadn’t come across Natalie Taylor before but recently was captivated by this particular song of hers. “Surrender” suddenly popped up among my YouTube recommendations the other day which seemed a bit random as the song was first aired in 2015. A quick bit of desk research confirmed I hadn’t seen any of the US TV programmes it had featured in so why had it suddenly surfaced? A little bit late for the white flag.
Checking into this, it appears that the song has been blitzed by a whole load of TikTok users who have adopted it as a soundtrack to myriad short videos. Rather than becoming a vehicle for silly dance moves, however, “Surrender” has found its emotional feet better suited to human interest and animal stories. At the last count, it featured in 3.1 million videos. It tugs on the heart strings in the right place and has that simple universality that makes the sentiments easy to embrace.
By way of contrast, lyrically and, as it will turn out, musically, you don’t come across many songs charting the love story between a tree and a fly. So “Tree and Fly” by the impressive Oxford-based psychedelic collective with the wonderfully-progish name of Flights of Helios, immediately intrigued me. The tree in question is the giant African Sycamore Fig, which enjoys a reciprocal relationship with a wasp species from the family Agaonidae, known as the fig wasp. So, technically, ‘Tree and Wasp’ then? This age-old relationship is an evolutionary wonder, involving the tree protecting and nurturing its miniature pollinators while its fruit plays its part in sustainsing a surprising broad onward chain of animal life.
“Tree and Fly” is a bucolic delight; almost a companion piece in spirit to Mercury Rev’s “The Queen of Swans”. Fronted by vocalist Phil Hanaway-Oakley, the six-piece band certainly share some commonality with the pastoral leanings of the latter and blend post-rock and folk influences to great effect on this song. The dream-like accompanying video is by Oxford-based artist/film-maker/dancer, Naomi Morris. A self-released 2018 full-length album, Endings, is also available while Flights of Helios has performed at Glastonbury Festival for BBC Introducing, plus Wilderness and Truck festivals.
The next one is easy for me to recommend as the announcement of a new album by Portland, Oregon songstress, Laura Veirs, is always a great event. When My Echo drops in October, it will be her eleventh solo long player no less. She has now shared a first track, “Burn Too Bright”, inspired by the passing of the notable producer and musician, Richard Swift. Laura explained: “The song was inspired by the passing of Richard Swift. I didn’t know him personally but he was a close friend to many in my community and I admire his artistry a lot. His death got me thinking about people who seem to 'burn too bright' for this world. The song is dedicated to the many bright, artistic and heroic souls who have sadly left this plane too soon.”
The video concept of a large chalk pavement drawing, nicely revealed in full at the end, neatly fits the song’s and indeed the wider album’s narrative about falling apart, death and the transient nature of things. Aptly, the day after the drawing was completed, the rain came and washed the chalk away.
To round off this week’s theme, here are a couple of other acts I came across via that fount of independent wonderfulness, Fresh on the Net. The Listening Post, which provides a weekly conduit for unsigned acts to upload new songs for consideration by a panel of moderators and which equally can be accessed by the listening public, is now taking a well-earned break until 7th September. I am regularly impressed by the quality and variety of the entries.
Flights of Helios came that way this week and two other bands that ticked my own boxes were the admirably named London-based quartet, Tropical Boyfriend Catalogue with the feel-good, Afro tinged “Holding On” and the enigmatic Hot Left Pole with the feel-quite-possibly-drunk “Wkd Blue”.
With an EP and four singles to their name so far this year, Tropical Boyfriend Catalogue can be filed under ‘prolific’ although that pales into insignificance when you look at the stats for Hot Left Pole. He seems to have put out a staggering 14 albums since last year. I will now take a weeks’ break to go through them all but meanwhile I hope you enjoy whistling along to “Wkd Blue”.