FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: APRILLE SHOURES
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote… so begins the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I could hardly think of a better way to announce the first Friday in the month of April, not that there are any rain showers quite yet. Indeed, I can see blue sky this morning. Not sure where this is going? Neither am I, so on with the music and a belter to begin.
Photo of Aimée Steven by Keith Ainsworth
I first encountered the music of Liverpudlian songstress Aimée Steven last summer after she released “Darling”, a slice of vintage-sounding garage which I described in this column as infectious and flirtatious alt-pop delivered with a straight down-the-line attitude and telling assurance. Nice. For a relative newcomer to music, both in terms of writing and performing her own songs, she shows confidence and true conviction. The self-professed Scouse guitar queen also brings a style to her work that reflects a passion for the French new wave era and music from the 60s and 70s. Her latest single, “Don't Forget It”, written and recorded remotely alongside producer Jon Withnall, is now her fifth release for Liverpool-based indie label Jacaranda Records.
The new song maintains a neat balance between its fuzz guitar fuelled, cards-on-table choruses and the filigree verses which show a softer side to her songcraft. Steven describes it as “a song that reminds us of our worth in and out of love, and asks others to see that too. Self-doubt and anxiety linger under the surface but love must always prevail.” She chose to make "Don't Forget It" her first single this year after Covid brought with it a full year of anxiety. “I wanted to remind everyone how much they are worthy of love and of life” she added. Meanwhile, with a growing set of impressive songs behind her, Aimée Steven is entirely worthy of our attention.
West Country-based duo Rebecca Nelson & Jacob Morrison use the moniker Faeland, a name which in itself could transport you to an enchanted land. The pair have been busy sprinkling the fairy dust with a new album When I Close My Eyes, recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios and released last Friday. The record follows Faeland’s well-received 2018 debut, All My Swim, but comes with an extra special twist. Faeland is offering the full 12-track album free to listeners accompanied by a unique ten-day immersive experience online. This includes individual pages telling the story of each song, behind the scenes secret footage and videos, plus extra downloads such as demos and unreleased tracks. This innovative way of sharing new music led to a funding prize from Help Musicians UK in support of the duo’s ‘innovation during Covid’ and adaptation as musicians.
The opening to the final single from the album, “Used To”, recalls “The Young Ones” (Cliff Richard) before a timely chord change fleetingly takes you into Angelo Badalamenti territory (he of the Twin Peaks soundtrack). After that it goes its own way to become a song you could very soon be used to hearing. “Used To” has its roots in a song Rebecca Nelson originally wrote over ten years ago (“The Party’s Over”) and imagines the writer looking back on her younger self as an older and wiser woman. The message – a sort of keep calm and carry on as things will turn out better than you expected - is heartening and in tune with its uplifting musical accompaniment. There is some particularly fine instrumental interplay behind Nelson’s seductively melodious vocals. To experience more, I recommend you sign up for the full album experience HERE.
We featured the music of Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Emily Zuzik in January, highlighting a track from her latest solo album, Torch & Trouble. Blending alt-country, pop, rock and R&B influences, this record is very much a mainstream work yet Zuzik has also branched out into electronica both as part of the LA trio, Woves, and now via a partnership with Massachusetts artiste and producer, Trip Jacker. The pair were brought together quite by chance when one of Jacker’s songs was played on a local radio show over here in the UK, In the Moog, hosted by Chris Watts, along with a track by Woves. The fellow Americans who were both listening in to the UK show live then connected via Twitter and the upshot was a new collaboration, “Neon Lights”.
It seems serendipitous that a community radio station in the Cotswolds could bring together these artistes from opposite sides of the USA and all because Trip sent a tweet complimenting Emily on her great voice! Such is the power of modern communications, eh? “Neon Lights” started life as a melodic instrumental track Jacker thought would work well with her voice. Zuzik quickly penned the lyrics and then recorded the vocals. There was quite a bit of back and forth until Jacker got the mix and arrangement to a place both parties were happy with. To continue the UK connection, the song was mastered at Abbey Road Studios no less and has a real 80s feel alongside its clipped lyrics which contemplate a late night road trip out of the city to leave cares behind and find space.
Completing our trio of duos this week, if such an expression is mathematically acceptable, is the pairing of Christina Alden & Alex Patterson. The Norwich multi-instrumentalists and songwriters are planning an early May debut release for Hunter, a 10-song collection largely centred around the natural world and human interaction with it. Their original songs are contemporary in meaning and highly relevant to the eco challenges we face but fit very comfortably into the oral folk tradition. You could imagine them being sung, socially distanced, around campfires. Their impressive storytelling is evident across the album, as this song released last week shows.
“My Boy” portrays the uncompromising mercy of the natural world and was inspired by the improbably true story of Indonesian lamplighter Aldi Novel Adilang who, in 2018, was swept out to sea when a storm knocked his floating wooden hut from its mooring. He spent 49 days adrift on the ocean before being rescued by a passing vessel. “I saw the story in a news article” lyricist Christina Alden explained. “It's such an incredible tale of endurance and survival along with the imagery of the ocean and waves, it seemed to lend itself to being translated into song.” It’s a story that is beautifully told and impeccably delivered from Alden’s flawless lead vocal with its tender vibrato to the duo’s close harmonies and Patterson’s empathetic violin counterpoint.
From a debut as a duo to a seventh solo – a journey that started in 2006 with the album, Passing Stranger. A year later the Wolverhampton born Scott Matthews received an Ivor Novello award for his song “Elusive”, his brand of folk-blues drawing comparisons with the likes of Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley. Matthews returns with his seventh full-length on 14 May, New Skin, and has now shared the titled track from it. It is a compelling song and the accompanying video resonates perfectly via a night time escape from neon-lit streets (obviously in vogue) to a more distanced sunrise.
Couched in electronica, “New Skin” strikes new ground for Scott Matthews yet retains enough echoes that durable fans will recognise and love. It is a striking song in a number of ways, heralding a shedding of the old via its self-generated samples, programmed beats and granular synthesisers. The choral layering he employs is especially potent and at its core he displays a prodigious register revealing a softly majestic vocal tone full of genuine yearning. “I felt I had to break the mould I’d cast myself in” Matthews writes about the album. The pandemic provided that catalyst as it forced him to take stock and find new ways to communicate through song, working through his own head space. On early evidence we have to say, job done.
We close this week with a preview of a longer-term comeback. San Francisco experimental indie outfit Thee More Shallows is set to return after a gap of 14 years with ‘quite possibly the coolest record ever written about fatherhood’, Dad Jams, due out on 28 May. In a nutshell, it’s about waking up middle aged with kids. The original trio (not that word again) released three albums and a couple of EPs in the early 2000’s before disbanding. Frontman Dee Kesler has now re-emerged working under the Thee More Shallows aegis once more with the help of some past band members and new musicians. The new album is previewed by this delightful slice of psychedelic flavoured pop, “Ancient Baby”.
The sense of life intervening is carried through this oddly titled track which juxtaposes the very old with the newly born. Perhaps being a dad expands the generation gap exponentially? Any song though that can begin with the line “I watched my ego calcify my tendencies” has to get my attention. Dee Kesler goes on to explore the angst of parenthood tongue in cheek or otherwise. The flute refrain that threads its way through the song is a nice prog touch while the song is one of those that you soon can’t get out of your head. Now where have I heard that line before.
You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist each month. As long as the songs are listed on Spotify, it features all the songs from each month’s Fifty3 Fridays. The March Playlist with 22 songs in the order they appeared over the past 4 weeks in this column is HERE.