FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: HOW WAS YOUR LOCKDOWN?
As we approach the corner of the calendar that leads into autumn, there does seem to be one dividend of living through a pandemic; there is just more and more great new music being made. Much is being released at a time that used to signal a lull in the music industry too. Perhaps what we have experienced over the past six months has given many of us space to breathe, reflect, dust-off a long prevaricated project, or polish something that has become too familiar or even tarnished. Alongside this a whole set of new problems may have emerged but it’s the creative stuff that keeps one sane in these times. For many musicians the time has been well-spent in honing their craft so that when it’s time to hit, it really hits.
Photo of Celeste by Elizaveta Porodina
British soul chanteuse and BBC Sound of 2020 winner Celeste announced her new single, “Little Runaway”, this week. The achingly beautiful, piano-led track is hallmarked with an authenticity that is as refreshing as it is compelling. It’s about losing your faith, even if just fleetingly, and, in the absence of anything else making sense on this planet, seeking answers from spirits. As the singer herself commented: “My favourite line in the song is ‘good news I could use some.’ I believe everyone has a guardian angel, a protector, and this is me talking to mine.”
Her first full length is now slated for early 2021. Celeste takes an even-handed view about how to square artistic integrity with commerciality. Rather than rush her debut album out to cash in on the justifiable hype surrounding her, she seems keen to trust her instincts and wait until she is completely happy with the end product. It’s this urge to keep things real that sets Celeste apart from many of her contemporaries, aligning her more with the giants of the past like Billie Holiday or Aretha Franklin. Hers is a genuinely soulful voice with that timeless quality few can achieve.
London-based singer-songwriter, Laura Fell, has previewed her debut full-length, Safe from Me, with a delicious hors d'oeuvre in the shape of “Bone of Contention”. Valiantly in the face of the cultural assault of Covid-19, the song is the first release from the former music journal turned record label, Balloon Machine Records. Fell works as a psychotherapist by day, a profession that undoubtedly informs her songwriting. Remarkably, she only began to make music at the age of 28 when the poetry she had been writing for almost a decade began to feel more like songs to her.
Laura Fell describes “Bone of Contention” as an exercise in anger. “I’ve always struggled to feel anger without also feeling out of control, and, therefore, disempowered. This song is about allowing myself to sit with my anger, and ending up finding clarity and power within it,” she explained. To me, the anger is very much caged by the singer’s breathily individual vocal, in the rise and fall of the fulsome acoustic guitar chords and adeptly composed instrumentation around both. This is great music, fully formed and realised. It augurs extremely well for the album to come.
After returning from a three-year musical hiatus with “Tayrona” which featured Tamsin of Wilsen, dream-pop trio, Mt. Wolf, has now teamed up with London duo, Solomon Grey, for a follow-up single, “Anna Maria”, ahead of a collaborative EP later in the year. The latest tie-up sees Solomon Grey vocalist Tom Kingston’s lingering falsetto delicately skate over a glistening synth-rooted soundscape. His woody tones evoke Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon yet with a warmth that cuts through ice.
Commenting on this latest collaboration, Mt. Wolf said: “We reached out to them with the instrumental of this track and the response was really positive - both the guys have given a lot to this song, in terms of vocals, songwriting and production. The whole collaboration project has been a really fun and inspiring process, and something we can take with us into the next Mt. Wolf album”. On the basis of the two songs to date, that should be worth passing a few lockdown pubs for.
I have been meaning to find a space to include an altogether wonderful song called “The Spiral” by another London duo, Sister See, which I came across on Spotify a month or so ago. Whether or not the lads have been using these curious times to sharpen their writing or recording axes remains to be seen; the mood of the song just seemed to fit today’s Fifty3 Fridays offering. The band’s ever so brief Spotify biography includes a lovely self-deprecatory line about its music: ‘it’ll never make it into the charts but dammit if it isn’t the royalty of rainy-day soundtracks.”
There’s a little more to listen to on the Spotify page too but for now “The Spiral” is the perfect closer.