FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: BETTER DAYS
So, we have good days, we have bad days. Today is already shaping up to be a better day, courtesy of that one-man indie hit machine and AFC Bournemouth superfan, Alex Hall. His beloved Cherries may have failed in their bid to bounce back into the Premier League this year but if the team ever need a new anthem, I know a man who can. Alex Hall has wooed us with a series of superlative singles over the past year and today drops “Better Days Are Coming” on a public that should largely be sensing that titular feeling, as we edge closer towards a new kind of normality.
Written, arranged, sung and produced by Hall himself, this is quite the production number with guest musicians on orchestral strings and reverb-soaked drums plus an impromptu remote 17-strong choir helping prepare the way for happier times ahead. The song fuses elements of 80s rock, Brit Pop and modern pop into a bright and hopeful anthem which draws out the tale of a young woman’s fight to earn a better life for herself: ‘I just can’t lie in bed, dreaming of another life’. Tenderly rendered and marvellously uplifting, this song should cement Alex Hall’s growing reputation as a songsmith for our day.
Along with Alex Hall, Manchester-based Test Card Girl has been a regular in these columns too on the back of her own exceptional self-penned songs. The solo project of singer-songwriter, Catherine Burgis, affectionately known as Caffs, Test Card Girl holds a candle for talented self-starters in music everywhere. She is currently working on an Arts Council-supported debut EP, Fly, out later this year, switching to a new studio team and relishing the creative shot in the arm this has given her, alongside working with I Am Kloot’s drummer, Andy Hargreaves. She has shared a delicious morsel from it in the form of a stripped-back acoustic version of her song, “We’ll Always Be There”.
Caffs wrote this song for and about her father who had a tricky start to life and has had to overcome certain obstacles. Working away from home with just her guitar and mic with her, she recorded it in one take and has since used that original recording to produce this version. Doing so has captured the intimacy of the moment and surely dispels any lingering self-doubts she voiced previously about her raw vocal ability. Her voice ripples through intricate melody lines while lyrically her sentiments bristle with family fortitude and hope. The song is due for release on all the usual platforms on 25 June.
Staying in the North West of England, we move on to Debris Discs, the solo electronic and dream pop vehicle for Derbyshire’s James Eary, whose previous single, “Cypress Tree”, saw his sympathetic tenor team up with beautiful harmonies from the aforementioned Test Card Girl. Eary’s music is self-labelled as ‘lofi cinematic dreampop’ while it has been variously described as electropop, synthpop and bedroom pop. In an interview though he claimed that he’s ‘too old to be making music in his bedroom, so perhaps it’s more ‘spare-bedroom pop’!’; a wry comment that marks him as a future humourist.
“Caravan” is the third single to be taken from Debris Discs’ forthcoming debut album and this one features guest harmonies from Sheffield-based trio, Polyhymns; exponents of folktronica, if you seek another label. There is a Supertramp-like piano phrase that weaves through the song cleverly uniting the disparate electronic sounds, drum samples, guitars, bass and baroque piano that Eary employs. An homage to escapism, “Caravan” takes you on a ride to take stock of what life throws at you. It’s a journey well worth taking. “Caravan” can be found on the usual streaming channels plus on that user-friendly site, Bandcamp, from today.
Bristol-based five-piece, Stay Lunar, impressed last November with the stellar “Not Your Fight”. Having kept its powder dry subsequently, it is pleasing to note the band’s return with the perhaps less than aptly titled single, “Immediately”. Lead vocalist, Harry Leigh, was candid when speaking about the effect on the pandemic on both band and personal dynamics. He should be applauded. We are perhaps more used to acts making the best of it through live streams and lockdown videos than talking about how separation, in tandem with personal stresses, takes its toll.
“Immediately” is a product of those difficult times; a resilient snapshot of those struggles yet equally bathed in a sense of optimism and fun, characteristic of Stay Lunar’s core sound. It’s another song underwritten by hope which is beginning to be a recurrent theme in today’s selections. The mix of 80’s euphoria mirrored by swelling synths and substantial guitar chords counters the unease and uncertainty expressed lyrically so the dream of what tomorrow may bring wins through. This may well be a return to live music. Stay Lunar is looking towards its much-rescheduled headline show on 16 October at The Louisiana in Bristol and getting back to regular live shows.
As Stay Lunar work towards a debut album, we cross over the Irish Sea now to meet the alt-folk trio, All The Luck In The World. Actually, that’s not strictly true as, although Co Wicklow natives, the band is now based in Berlin. The triumvirate comprising songwriters, Neil Foot, Ben Connolly and Kelvin Barr came together fully in 2013 and released an eponymous first album a year later. There then followed periods of extensive touring and working on new material in a makeshift Irish home studio. Released in 2018, a second album, A Blind Arcade, was recorded here and in a Berlin studio. The band has now announced its third album, How The Ash Felt, via the exquisitely fragile lead single, “Waves (Poem)”.
“Waves (Poem)” finds them on the coast of Ireland reflecting on feelings of insignificance compared to the rich cycle of nature and its timelessness, represented here by tide and waves. It was adapted a little from a poem originally written by Ben Connolly. Musically there’s a nod in the direction of Bon Iver in the delicacy of delivery and mix of electronic and organic sounds. Layered vocal effects give the song an otherworldly feel while the well-worn phrase ‘lost in music’ comes to mind as you contemplate the images the song conjures up. If ‘waves can sing’ I think they might be inspired to join in.
We are back to the UK mainland now for our final act this week. Newcastle-based singer-songwriter IMOGEN who was formerly known as Immy Williams, trades in particularly powerful and visceral piano balladry. She has something of a pure, ethereal air with a potent vocal presence, not dissimilar to that of London Grammar’s Hannah Reid. She equally presents an image of empowerment which is echoed in her campaigning stance, working hard to make the music industry safer and more accessible.
IMOGEN’s new single with the somewhat uncompromising title of “Bloodbag”, takes its cue from her infirmity following surgery. She is initially resentful about how the operation had left her mind and body out of kilter but grows ever stronger as she works through the trauma; a process which is neatly mirrored by her ascending a spiral staircase towards the light in the accompanying video. “I took my literal experiences and used them as imagery to explain some complicated feelings, what happened in the end was an exorcism” the singer explains. It’s a quite brilliant exposition of pain and renewal. What’s more, we end on hope!