FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: 2022 AND ALL THAT
So, 2022 two weeks in. Will anything ever change? People seem as divided as ever and opinions become entrenched arguably before they even have the right to become opinions. Whether it’s outrage about Downing Street parties, scarcely credible claims of justification for them or the ridiculous charade being played out down under around ‘Novax’ Djokovic, it is so easy to come to an instant social media-fuelled judgement on just about anything. A sense of proportion disappears out of that window you’ve reluctantly just opened for extra ventilation. I’m not holding my breath.
And what of new music in 2022. The Inbox has had a breather for a couple of weeks but it has soon settled into a pattern of the dispiritingly over-hyped and the extremely worthy but sadly under-funded. I will continue to find you some choice cuts this year that you may not otherwise come across and champion what I consider to best outstanding examples of largely, though not exclusively, independent new music. Onwards!
Photo of Let’s Eat Grandma by El Hardwick
Let’s begin today with a topical title and an act that is likely to be at least familiar to those who read this column. The Norwich duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth aka Let's Eat Grandma was last featured here in November after announcing the release of a third studio album, Two Ribbons, this coming April. The news was accompanied by the quiet and beautifully reflective title track which closes the LP. It has now been followed by the opening song, “Happy New Year”, which, though similarly a tribute to friendship, couldn’t be more different in mood.
In “Two Ribbons” Jenny Hollingworth contemplated relationships between close friends and the changes that take place over time and through life experiences, “Happy New Year” is immediately celebratory in tone, set to a euphoric backing track. Written by Rosa Walton, it exorcises a difficult time in the closest of relationships – that between best friends – affirming that such affinities run far deeper. The new year setting reflects nostalgic reminiscences alongside the opening of a fresh chapter; a realisation as Rosa puts it that “now we have been able to grow into our own individual selves.” This individuality seems to have been realised at no loss to the close cohesion that the pair still demonstrate throughout their material.
Photo of Grace Cummings by Ian Laidlaw
The Melbourne-based artiste Grace Cummings has an impressive number of strings to her bow: singer, songwriter, producer and equally gifted stage actor. Her self-produced second album entitled Storm Queen is out today. Her latest single off the album, “Raglan”, will give you a nice foretaste. The song is an homage to the street where the artiste takes her bike to visit friends. In contrast to the sun dappled outdoor visuals in the accompanying video to “Raglan”, it was recorded in a tiny studio on Raglan Street on a freezing winter's day.
Grace Cummings has an unusual tone to her alto voice, a real earthiness that is a great bedfellow for the rich, vintage-sounding acoustic guitar chords that shadow it. “Raglan” simply evokes personal memories of good times associated with the street which often culminated with “someone putting on Bob Dylan as the sun came up.” Starting out as a drummer in high school bands, she began writing songs of her own, with the traditional Irish folk music her father often played at home among her influences and worked as a solo artist from the late 2010s, alongside performing in the Australian theatre. London readers can catch Grace Cummings at her headline show on 9 March at the acoustically-blessed St Matthias Church in Stoke Newington.
Regular readers will know that I have championed the songs of Ascot-based Emma Denney over the past 18 months or so. With regular, high quality single releases she has now amassed a body of work that would rival that of any leading female artiste in the industry today; quite enough for a great album in fact! Her latest song is a collaboration with British composer/producer Chris Norman, now based in Bulgaria, who works under the moniker of KaizanBlu. He describes the resulting track, “Run”, as chillstep; a term I confess I had to look up – basically a more chilled, relaxed version of dubstep if you’re still with me.
Denney is supported by BBC Introducing Solent who this week chose “Run” as its Record of the Week. She provided the top line lyrics and melody to complement KaizanBlu’s atmospheric instrumental. The revenge-themed lyrics developed as Denney watched a Netflix thriller with the opening line setting the tone: "Run, run, run / I'm a sucker with a gun". Denney also took some inspiration for this dark tale from Billie Eillish’s vocal style. “Now that it's finished, I think it's a little James Bond-esque” she added. I’ve been expecting that.
Photo of Hippo Campus by Tonje Thilesen
It was nice to reacquaint myself with Hippo Campus this week. It is almost four years since I first encountered the then four-piece Minnesotans via the release of its debut long-player, Landmark. Now augmented with the addition of trumpeter DeCarlo Jackson, the band has returned with a super-catchy single, “Ride or Die”, ahead of a full album release, LP3, due out on 4 February. From what I’ve heard of the album, it has an overriding feeling of togetherness about it harking back to the camaraderie instilled from the band’s early days.
“Ride or Die” has a decidedly Vampire Weekend feel to it from lead singer Jake Luppen’s vocal to the song’s bouncing rhythms and circular melody lines. The song channels a series of ‘ride-or-die’ relationships across different groups from communities to romantic partners, collaborators to friends. The individual instruments weave in and out really effectively while the story is neatly amplified by a fresh, innovative video accompaniment. Great stuff.
Photo of Wasuremono by William Southward
Making a welcome return to Fifty3 Fridays also ahead of a new album release, Let's Talk, Pt.2, on 28 January is Wiltshire indie-pop four-piece, Wasuremono. As the title hints, the record is the second half of an ambitious double album, which began with the release of Pt. 1 last year. Its final preview comes via a new single, “Fill Your Lungs”. Wasuremono is the project of multi-instrumentalist William Southward, who records in his shed studio in Bradford-On-Avon and releases via his own label, The Wilderness Records. The full band comprises Southward, Madelaine Ryan on keys and siblings Isaac (drums) and Phoebe Phillips (bass).
With a chorus that quickly imprints itself, “Fill Your Lungs” does much of what the song title promises. Although the press release accompanying the song describes it as more morose in tone than other songs, personally I find it very uplifting. The surety that the sun will rise in the morning balances any more ambiguous feelings. Life may be transient but you learn and absorb life’s lessons and have a future investment with children to care for. It seems to me very much dedicated to William Southward’s young daughter: “You climb on my back and on my shoulders” is a labour of love.
We close with something that I keep returning to since I first heard the song via Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post Full Inbox; itself quite often as equal a source of inspiration as are the eventual Fresh Faves choices. I couldn’t find that much online about singer-songwriter Beth Hartshorne whose latest song, “Through Clouds”, really engaged me. ‘Songwriting and music are my intrinsic anchors as I navigate the ebb and flow of life’ she says rather sagely on her Facebook page. The imagery of ‘mist and moments’, of ‘fog of our future’ play against a realisation that memories fade as the ice melts. Beth’s tender and sensitive vocal seems perfectly poised for such musings. If anyone knows her on Facebook, please let her know I love this!