FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: AUTOTUNED TO PERFECTION
Did anyone watch I Can See Your Voice, the BBC show where singers are judged on appearance first by a panel of what these days are loosely termed Celebs? It sounds like a concept they might have tossed about on W1A (remember Britain's Tastiest Village?) In fact, it originates from the home of K-pop, South Korea. I was nicely surprised that it was engaging enough to have you soon second guessing the panel and in time will no doubt give rise to the overuse of its own stock phrases. On which note, anyone watching the run-up to this week’s Masterchef Final might also have tired of hearing about fish being cooked to perfection so let’s turn our attention to that oft-maligned device that was originally intended to correct off-key singing, the Autotune.
First, a quick reintroduction. Regular readers, should I be blessed with such wonderful beings, will recall previous plaudits emanating from this column for the work of Alex Hall, the Bournemouth-based artiste and producer. Further evidence that he is perfecting the art of extremely catchy indie-pop music nailed in three minutes comes in the shape of his latest single, “Still Hurts”. Taking unusual inspiration from BENEE's 2020 hit “Supalonely” which Hall confesses he loved, the track includes a playful homage to autotune while juggling self-deprecation with heart searching.
“Still Hurts” plays with the notion that feelings for an ex-love never quite die. This nagging sense of attachment bounces between melancholy and acceptance, a juxtaposition which is reflected musically through its bass swells, punchy drums, quirky synths and knowingly brazen autotune in the chorus. An adept and engagingly conversational storyteller through song, Alex Hall is fast becoming a Ray Davies for our time. As for his dancing though, a call from Strictly may not await; indeed, the man himself describes his terpsichorean talent as deliberately conscious; “If you can't dance, dance like you're gonna kill someone”.
Imaginatively named after the spherical accumulation of dust and debris in orbit around a star, Derbyshire-based lo-fi cinematic artiste James Eary trades as Debris Discs and you could hardly wish for a more stellar introduction than to lend an ear to his new single, the enchanting “Cypress Tree”. He chose the moniker as it resonated with his musical methodology of piecing together lots of little ideas to make the whole in the way that planetary debris provides reservoirs of material from which new planets may even form. Science lesson over – let’s play the disc.
Eary’s empathetic tenor voice here is beautifully meshed with harmonies from Manchester electro-folk artiste Test Card Girl, another favourite of this column. Driven by detuned descending guitars, subtle percussion and lush electronics, “Cypress Tree” develops nicely into a tale of contrasting ways to deal with inertia and denial, resolving into relatively spring heeled acceptance. “Cypress Tree” is the second single to be taken from Debris Discs’ forthcoming debut album and can be found on the usual streaming channels from today. You can find also buy it and discover more music from Debris Discs on that wonderfully supportive, artiste-friendly site, Bandcamp. All Bandcamp purchases of “Cypress Tree” include an exclusive bonus track, “Napoleon Relic”, so what’s not to love.
When you are surfing Bandcamp, might I also recommend you stop by Helefonix, the alias of Helen Meissner. Having promoted independent singer-songwriters for the last ten years under the aegis of Folkstock Records, she found herself in her mid-fifties suddenly making her own sweet music of a different hue after getting to know the music creation studio app, GarageBand. Her debut EP, MidLifeMix, a genre fluid assortment of six instrumental tracks with a distinctive dance and house feel, went on to win a Best Dance EP award from international music magazine Clouzine no less. Now Helen has turned to her garden for her latest inspiration.
Having gained lots of TV and press coverage for her topical track championing Handforth’s Jackie Weaver, Helefonix has now released “Song Thrush Serenade”, featuring recordings of her garden visitor over a weaving electronic backing track. The Song thrush has the rather unfortunate scientific name of Turdus philomelos but let’s not hold that against its splendid vocal abilities which includes the knack of repeating its phrases.
Not one to stand still, Helen has also been experimenting with symphonic formats and has garnered a further Clouzine International Music Award for Best Electronic Classical EP this spring with Orchestral Manoeuvres. They must like her. I do and here’s “Reconnection”, the closing track from the EP; bright, optimistic and resolutely contemporary in its overall feel.
Finally this week, we fly over to the USA. The Year You’ll Never Get Back sounds like an appropriate title for an album out following a year of pandemic. Released last month by Paper Anthem, the musical vehicle of Fayetteville, Arkansas singer and songwriter Joseph Hitchcock, the record actually has a much longer timeline. Most songs date from 2016 around a time he confesses to experiencing personal and emotional pressures. Having stretched the recording and production over the subsequent years and then not exactly rushed the album out, it has the hallmark of a considered body of work. Hitchcock’s gift as a wordsmith shines through as he tackles difficult themes from body dysmorphia and immigration to the loss of friendships, while coming out the other side with more measured self-awareness.
“Within Walls” is a great introduction to the exceptional quality of Paper Anthem’s third album. Vocally and in the precise construction and execution of this song I hear echoes of Canada’s Barenaked Ladies at their best, which is some plaudit. Many will find thoughts and feelings expressed in it that resonate in these days of isolation. The accompanying video really captures the neurosis, intrigue and uncertainty as secrets are revealed and truths told. It’s currently labelled ‘unlisted’ on YouTube but should be prescribed viewing. As for the full album, time you’ll never get back could hardly be better spent than in having it on repeat. Here is another song to whet your aural appetite further; the garage rock- fuelled “Sunday” bristling with frustration about how the world works and ending in a glorious wig-out.