FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: BRINGING SOMETHING BETTER
Bringing something better, eh? No, it’s no political soundbite, though I wonder why no one has thought of it given some of the more convoluted slogans out there. I must confess that the line first came to me when thinking about how to badge the wonder of doorstep milk deliveries by Express Dairies; a wee bit more PC than 'I'm carrying on with my milkman." Not in the days of the above image I should add. Back to the script, it struck me that all this week’s songs have a kind of thread linking their individually disparate sounds and that is the hope or realisation of something better.
Photo of Harp by Eli Janish
Let’s begin with something special. I have always been a big fan of the US band Midlake from Denton, Texas who started out as jazz students and morphed into a quite magnificent alt. rock outfit with folk leanings. Midlake’s second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, especially rests firmly in my best-ever category. Lead singer and principal songwriter, Tim Smith, left the band two years after the album’s follow up, The Courage of Others, came out, abandoning much unreleased music in the can and leaving his erstwhile colleagues to wipe the slate clean as they began a fourth album from scratch. While Tim announced a new project at that time, it has taken just over a decade to realise the fruits of his labours.
In advance of a debut album Albion, due out on 1 December, “A Fountain” is the second single from Harp, the musical pairing of Tim Smith and his multi-instrumentalist wife Kathi Zung. Though he has relocated to North Carolina with his new wife and her children, Tim clearly has a strong affection for and affinity to a Britain of yore reflected in several tracks and indeed the album title itself. “A Fountain” though has a direct relationship with his new circumstances recalling earlier unrequited love being supplanted by a truly fulfilling outcome since meeting Kathi. Heralded by chiming guitars, Tim’s yearning vocal accentuated by layering balances a warmth to counter his more austere and frequently poetic pronouncements. It is simply a reflective and quietly beautiful piece of music.
Photo of Maya Lane by Kevin England
It is but a few weeks since I last wrote about London-based singer-songwriter Maya Lane via her single “24F” and her exceptional live performance at The Bedford. Hot on the heels of all that, she has now unleashed a brand new single, the modestly titled “Just A Girl” and announced a support slot for Far From Saints, the band featuring Kelly Jones of Stereophonics with Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker from The Wind and The Wave, on tour this November. It is great to see an upcoming young musician benefitting from the kind of astute management that can land her talents this kind of exposure to a wider audience.
With “Just A Girl”, Maya brings her signature Laurel Canyon vibe to acoustic pop terrain to stunning effect. There is an authenticity to her sentiments as she works her way through an initial reaction to a family member asking her ‘for the 100th time if she was ever going to get a boyfriend’ to a broader perspective on how it feels to be a young independent woman. Her thoughts are amplified in the accompanying video which features snippets sent in by her followers in response to a request for videos that describe and portray girlhood to them. Vocally Maya shows the full extent of her range from gentle questioning in the verses to soaring choruses. Go see her if you get the chance.
Photo of Kelly Jones & Patty Lynn by Sophia French
This seems an appropriate time to say a few words about Far From Saints too. A side project from their main bands, Far From Saints comprises Kelly Jones of Stereophonics with Austin’s Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker of The Wind and The Wave. The trio has co-written a self-titled album creating a cross-genre sound spanning country, rock, folk and Americana, genres they individually and collectively love. Kelly and Patty’s vocal harmonies work extremely well in this seam of writing and from the album, which actually landed in June, this song, “Screaming Hallelujah”, seemed to me to sum up the band’s collective strengths. The song blends bluegrass guitar picking with call-and-response vocals amid a good old Mumfords-style top tapper. The short tour begins in Birmingham on 15 November and concludes in Bexhill on 24th.
A change of mood next as we switch to a familiar name within these columns, Annie James from Machina X. We know Annie from her long distanced work with Cyrus in Machina X and more recent recordings individually with producers, Nature of Wires and Jigsaw Sequence. She has now turned up in a different guise as guest vocalist on a single by Australia’s Montage Collective, created by composer and producer Timo Jalkanen. He has an ambitious three-album project due to be released on 30 December. The core album, Outliers, will be accompanied by a remix version, Alters, and an instrumental version, Interiors.
“Ghosts In You” is the first single from Alters and features suitably otherworldly vocals from Annie and some thoughtful, enigmatic lyrics: “the more we know / the less we see.” Blending rhythmic analogue electronica with organic orchestral and traditional instrumentation, Timo creates a rich tapestry of sound using Australian and UK-based musicians to augment his electronic ecosystem. The core album has a concept running through it, linking stories from the Finnish Winter War of 1939-40 to notions of overcoming adversity, surviving trauma and gaining a form of renewal; fascinating stuff you can find more about on Montage Collective’s website.
Photo of Wings of Desire by Holly Whitaker
Staying close to the world of electronica though with quite a contrasting vibe, let us move to Wings of Desire whose amazing visual collage of a main website never ceases to engage you. We first tracked the dream pop duo of Chloe Little and James Taylor in February last year via its single, “Perfect World”. Drawing ideas from psychological revolution, visual arts and 20th century counterculture, the band’s work has previously examined the notion of things falling apart so that something better can arise: a concept still very true to today’s exceptionally troubled times.
Wings of Desire has a debut album Life Is Infinite collating all its earlier single releases due out on 8 December and a recent one taken from it, “001 (Tame The War, Feed The Fire)” is now presented with a live session video. I love the passion and intensity of the song which combines the anthemic with a hint of shoegazing amid an 80s vibe. Lyrically it picks up on humanity being at the crossroads of destruction and promotes a more life-affirming resolution to it all. The song was actually written before this incarnation of WoD. Indeed, its final lines reveal the name the pair chose: “Tame the war, feed the fire, can’t deny the wings of desire.”
It seems appropriate to come full circle and close this week’s selection with a suitable tune from Midlake from the days when Tim Smith led the band. The sentiments behind “Roscoe” seem to me to be a plea for getting back to a simpler life which in itself could be viewed appropriately as bringing something better. Discuss! Might I equally commend you to Midlake’s post Tim Smith work, all appealingly voiced by the warm baritone of the original band member, Eric Pulido.