FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: 100 NOT OUT
Today marks the 100th post on this website. A small milestone maybe but one that still makes you think about how much good music is put out week after week and the enormity of the task of trying to keep tabs on even a tiny proportion of it. It is also a celebratory day of a kind - 5th of November today. We are not big on fireworks in this household, mainly because of the effects they have on pets and wildlife, so let’s settle for a sparkler rather than some really big bangs.
So, on with this week’s selection. Oxford-based indie/pop producer, Balloon Twister, is a somewhat enigmatic fellow but has been upping his visibility online of late via Instagram and Bandcamp pages to add to his presence on SoundCloud. We have featured Balloon Twister previously via his notable collaborations with emerging singer-songwriters, fellow Oxonian Berry Brown and Vancouver’s Field5. His latest partnership with the former has resulted in a new five-track EP, Cry Havoc! The EP cover features Berry's dog, Meeko, while an animal of different proportions is referenced on the lead song, “Bear Can Dance”.
“Bear Can Dance” is a fulsome, expansive workout with busy percussion, layered synths and instrumental effects working in unison to create a joyously energetic song you can’t help but dance along to. Berry’s warm and inviting vocal adds its customary balm yet with an edge that doesn’t sap. Berry Brown has had a busy year musically. In addition to her work with Balloon Twister she has recorded with another producer, Amsterdam’s Yuri Runs, an alliance that produced this little gem, “Check In”. Here, against a chilled dance track, she muses on the ups and downs of life and how you stay positive with the support of friends and family.
Having already notched up two albums, Belfast-based songsmith Ciara O'Neill has transitioned from a bedroom songwriter whose creative output was a kind of therapy to a seasoned country flavoured folk artiste who has spent time to Nashville following a chance meeting with a publisher at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival. During the pandemic she then found herself on the frontline as a result of her long-time career in the NHS. Over these challenging times, Ciara once more found solace in her songwriting and began to create an EP, La Lune, themed around the sun, moon and stars with an added French twist.
The title track on the forthcoming four-song collection has just been released as a single. In “La Lune”, Ciara takes you on a journey through the moonlit streets of Paris while dispensing some homely life advice: “the kind your Granny would’ve given you” as she says. Against a languid acoustic guitar-driven backdrop, peppered with lovely resonant string effects, Ciara O’Neill’s distinctive voice spins drowsily creating an otherworldly detachment in its rises and falls. This contrast nicely with the song’s more grounded sentiments: “Don’t avoid change, there are so many roads / Even the seasons will turn green to gold”.
From Northern Ireland via Nashville to the North East via Brazil. Nadedja is a soulful alt-pop artiste; a native of Brazil who has been based in Newcastle Upon Tyne since 2017. Building on her Brazilian foundations, she draws inspiration from pop, soul and R’n’B influences with her own experiences and reflections melded into a genuinely heartfelt expression. Her debut EP, aptly titled Transient, was released last month and is hallmarked throughout with an underlying vocal delicacy finally balanced by passion in its more dynamic moments.
“When We Land” is the final track of four on the EP. Nadedja wrote it in one night alone with her piano. “It was one of those songs that just pour out of you in one go and leave you a bit breathless” the singer confesses tellingly. She conveys a real sense of release in the song’s perfect outro; one that tells you it’s just the beginning. Beautifully stripped back with instrumentation that simply complements rather than crowds it, “When We Land” is crowned by Nadedja’s perfectly pitched vocals which convey soulful emotions naturally and intimately.
From artistes new to me next to one I happened across some time ago. Skating Polly hail from Oklahoma City; the stepsister pairing of Kelli Drew Mayo and Peyton Mckenna Bighorse, augmented by Kelli's brother Kurtis Lee Mayo on drums, got together in 2009 and recorded a debut album in 2010 when the girls were just 9 and 14 years old respectively. Last here in late 2019, Skating Polly has just confirmed plans to return to Europe in February/March 2022, kicking off in Leipzig and closing in Leeds, taking in 11 UK cities en route. The band is using a great track from its last album (2018) to promote the tour. This is “Hollywood Factory”, written after Kelli filmed a pilot for a TV show.
“Hollywood Factory” is an amusing take on the idea of going to Hollywood and selling out – or at least trying to sell out if Hollywood will have you. Dusting off Skating Polly’s 2018 album The Make It All Show which includes this song reminded me of another from the same album; actually, the first I’d ever heard of the band. The song just randomly showed up after I finished listening to something else on SoundCloud. This is “Little Girl Blue and The Battle Envy”; an ominously slow builder with an ever-present, insistent bass line and stream of consciousness lyric which shows an altogether different side to this intriguing band. Snap up those tour tickets now.
Photo of The Tragically Hip by Jim Herrington
Let’s close today with something of a legend. I’ve always considered The Tragically Hip to be one of the great band names. Sadly, the Canadian five-piece, veterans of 13 studio albums dating back to 1987, had its own tragedy to deal with after the death of frontman and lyricist Gord Downie from brain cancer thirty years after the band’s recording debut. Following Downie’s death, the surviving members resolved not to continue as The Hip without him, although they have a bank of unreleased material to consider putting out someday. However, they did perform a song at this year’s Juno Awards, which honour achievements in Canadian music, with Feist guesting on lead vocals, in the band's only televised performance subsequently.
“Not Necessary” is one of six previously unreleased songs that comprises Saskadelphia, taken from the recording sessions for the band’s 1991 album, Road Apples. The EP title, a term coined by the band in a nod to the extensive touring they were doing in the early 1990s, was the original working title for Road Apples before it was rejected by the band’s US label as being 'too Canadian.' Schitt’s Creek fans will recognise the actress in the cinematic gem of a video accompanying “Not Necessary”. It is Canadian starlet Emily Hampshire who played the inimitable motel receptionist Stevie Budd in the TV comedy. The perfectly gauged rock song needs no further comment from me.
A friendly reminder that you can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month! It features all the songs from the previous month’s Fifty3 Fridays.
October’s Playlist includes 26 songs. A bit like your supermarket deliveries – not that we have them – there are a couple of substitutes for things that aren’t currently on Spotify. The marvellous “Have Fun in Your Workplace” by The Harriets is there in lieu of the Fangirl workout “Hit Me with The Highlights”. Gecko’s captivating words and music podcast “The Flock” is represented by the witty “Can’t Know All the Songs” from his excellent album, Climbing Frame. Hope you enjoy the playlist and will share it!