FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: A CONSCIOUS DECISION
“They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” With his admirable record of political activism, it was probably no surprise that Neil Young took a principled stance in asking Spotify to remove his music from the platform. This was in protest against the site’s bankrolling of The Joe Rogan Experience, a show that has pointedly spread Covid and vaccine misinformation. Weirdly I could still find a bunch of Young’s tracks and two live albums on Spotify this morning. Perhaps that is no surprise either as online behemoths are not natural compliers themselves.
With a healthy 6m plus monthly listens on Spotify, Neil Young might earn something like $20,000 a month from Spotify plays. Having previously sold half his publishing rights to Hipgnosis for $150m, you could say that the guitar rock legend won’t miss the money and there are of course plenty of other ways you can access his enviable body of work. On that note, it does seem too obvious a cue for a song. My musical chums and I enjoy playing covers of a number of Neil Young classics and here is one of my favourites: “Powderfinger”.
The whole thing though does leave a Spotify subscriber with a conscience and no truck with anti-vax nonsense in a quandary. Do I follow the #DeleteSpotify crowd, lose my playlists and a convenient listening platform? After deliberation, the answer is no. I’ll stick with Spotify but if enough of us email them to complain about vaccine fake facts along with account deletions and other acts doing a Neil, then perhaps they might rethink. Fifty3 Fridays is about highlighting largely unsigned acts with few plays on the likes of Spotify but I also recognise their need to be there, even though the income stream may be zilch right now. The chance to get picked up, be put on playlists and attract a younger following who mostly stream music is hard to sidestep. It’s the timeworn in-it-to-win-it argument again.
We pick up next where we left off last week with three acts who were among that week’s entries to Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post. As a guest moderator, I got to listen to all the songs and pick the ones I really liked. First up is London singer-songwriter and street performer Rupert Caney, who attended the Brit School at the same time as the likes of Adele, Katie Melua, Kate Nash and Jessie J. Rupert has honed his songwriting and performing talents by regularly busking on London’s Southbank in addition to working as a session musician and gigging in various bands.
Rupert’s FOTN entry,“4am”, is a beautifully paced story of the all too familiar upsides and downsides of young love, told in a fresh kind of marriage between acoustic and urban styles. With a relaxed flow to his voice, comfortable in a high register, Rupert draws us in to his world, radiating a warmth which is underpinned by a bright fingerpicked melody. There’s an apt sentiment at the end of the choruses to diffuse those arguments over couches and takeaways: “Cos if you hold me like this / You hold me together”. Alongside “4am”, Rupert has more delights in his canon. This live version of a song from earlier in 2021, the sadly reflective “January Feels”, really hits the spot too.
The second artiste in our FOTN-inspired triumvirate goes by the name of AME and is based somewhere in the UK. That’s about it for a biography as she prefers to adopt an anonymous Anime style so attention can be drawn to her music rather than her as a person. It’s clearly early days but the sad, elegiac beauty of her song entry to Fresh on the Net does exactly that. She usually records everything at home using either Logic Pro X or GarageBand and while she does not really know how to play any instruments, other than piano which she plays by ear, she has enough wherewithal to be able to create her own songs. AME is inspired by a simple wish to help people; to be the voice for people who feel they don’t have one.
“I aim to create music that feels ‘warm’, so that it can be comforting even if the lyrics contrast the composition” says AME. Her first release, “Wishing”, conveys the thoughts of a nameless character who feels nothing at all, but wishes to experience emotions like everyone around them. The soft sad melody lines and plaintive lyrics do convey a certain emptiness, but the song equally ends on a note of hope; the warm, comforting factor she talks about. Her delicate sense of melody put me in mind of the iconic Japanese composer and pop musician, Ryuichi Sakamoto. Obviously AME has a way to go but her plans for further themed releases this year mean she is definitely one to watch.
Psylhouette started life in 2014 as the solo project of Brighton’s Tristan Learmonth, giving birth to a self-titled debut album the following year on which he provided the lion’s share of songwriting, instrumentation and vocals with assistance from singer-songwriter Juli Holz plus keyboardist and co-writer, Jon Russell. Tristan’s background as a studio engineer helped him lace everything together, while he was inspired to continue the association with Berlin-based Juli Holz despite the distance apart. The partnership eventually led to a second album, Psylhouette II, landing late in November. The pair create their songs through a distanced collaboration; a kind of “shoegaze new wave musical tennis”. Indeed, Tristan confesses to have only met Juli once in person!
There’s a bit of New Order about the bass that anchors the opening to “God Bless The Animals” and a deceptively simple riff that runs throughout the song; like all the tracks on the album, it started out as a basic instrumental, until Juli came up with the lyrics which she delivers with Berlin cool in a semi-spoken patter. The song has a certain mesmeric quality to it with its instrumental repetition amplified by Juli’s adopted robotic tone. Lyrically, Psylhouette plead the case for us humans to mend our ways and give the animals a break. To show a further dimension to Psylhouette, here is the opening track from the album, “An Age Found”, which is accompanied by the band’s first ever video.
Our penultimate song this week takes us over to Austin, Texas, the base of US five-piece, Sun June, whose members are drawn from across the States but who came together in the vibrant home of the SXSW music festival. A debut album, recorded live to tape, followed in 2018 with the band coining the term ‘regret pop’ to describe its melancholic work. The follow-up, Somewhere, came out in February last year with the main focus shifting from a sense of loss to that of love; founder members lead vocalist Laura Colwell and guitarist Stephen Salisbury became a couple in the interval between the records.
Two weeks ago, the band released an expanded version of Somewhere with the addition of three new songs, including this beauty entitled “Reminded”. It is a song that caught my ear immediately and led me to discover more about the album’s architects. It is a highly atmospheric song with subtle, subdued instrumentation all that is needed to give Laura Colwell’s sensual, dusky vocal full rein as she develops the romantic conceit: “I saw the stars wrap around the room”. Her vocal performance is as enchanting as her dark reminiscences of being captivated by an old flame.
Finally, to something hot off the press. Released today, ahead of a full debut LP in April titled Late Night Calls is a new single, “Poster Girl”, from husband and wife duo, Sam & Sarah Gotley aka Blue Violet. They previously performed under the aegis of Broken Bones Matilda racking up some notable festival sets at Glastonbury and Wilderness among others before regrouping to form Blue Violet. Alternating between London and Sarah’s childhood home in Argyll, Scotland, the alt-pop pairing worked on creating an album which was then recorded in November 2019, over a month at Middle Farm Studios in Devon. Its jewels are just beginning to see the light of day via a series of singles.
The latest of these, “Poster Girl”, is a slow build ballad with a widescreen quality that culminates in a wildly anthemic guitar and keyboard driven climactic conclusion. Sarah Gotley’s opening gambit paints a picture of an unhealthy control ripe for resistance: “When I was a Poster Girl in 1984 / you tore me from your magazine and pinned me to your wall”. Her character’s fearless fight back is peppered with imagery of guns, a break for the border, drunken sailors and crashing waves. Her vocal with its delicious softly cracked tone gains in strength as the song develops to echo this resistance. It’s an epic song that bodes particularly well for the full works coming in April.
Glastonbury 2022 Emerging Talent Competition
A brief reminder to all unsigned acts based in UK and Ireland that you can enter Glastonbury Festival’s 2022 Emerging Talent Competition from this Monday, 31 January. The free to enter competition is a chance to compete for a spot on one of the main stages at this summer’s Festival and even pick up a Talent Development prize from PRS Foundation en route.
Entry is open for ONE WEEK ONLY from 9am Monday 31 January until 5pm Monday 7 February 2022 via the Glastonbury website. To take part, acts send in a link to one original song on SoundCloud, plus a link to a video of themselves performing a song live in any context from bedroom to concert hall.
Full details and some tips are in my preview here.