FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: CALL MY LEXICON
Apropos of nothing, I may have a degree in English but I still have to look up words in the dictionary. Actually, I studied Medieval English Literature which may explain a lot. I am a terribly slow reader and there wasn’t much written so it suited me, I think. These days I get a lot of press releases about music which can take some digesting as it’s hard to sidestep the cliches. A selection from this week's post includes some repeat offences: highly anticipated, critically acclaimed, sophomore effort, groundbreaking territory, rising Florida rapper (he gets up in the morning?)
Interestingly two words cropped up in the Inbox this week describing different musicians that I confess I had to look up: polymath (a person of wide knowledge or learning) and multi-hyphenate (someone with several professions or skills). Perhaps one of them might make a suitable Chancellor of the Exchequer too. Wait, I see we now have another new one.
Someone who has no issues with her vocabulary is London-based Glasgow-native Niamh Downes aka Neev, who brings folk music influences with a sprinkling of jazz to her melodies and vocal inflections along with fine storytelling. Since releasing her delightful 2021 EP entitled Currants, she has been busy recording this past year so has a lot of new music in the works. She has also been working with a recent Fifty3 Fridays favourite, Frankie Morrow, and on top of that will be playing a London date shortly with her own five-piece band.
Neev produced and mixed her recent single, “Seawall”, as well as handling vocals and all instrumentation other than the violin performance and arrangement which is courtesy of Anabel Roberts. The song is inspired by the play of the same name written specifically for the actor Andrew Scott by playwright Simon Stephens and subsequently made into a film. Neev explores the sense of fatigue that comes from taking on far too much. Beautifully light and airy, yet always carrying a poignant undertone, her vocal command shines a light into every dark corner.
If you thought you would only find a Backspace on your keyboard, let me enlighten you. Travel up to Leeds and you’ll find Backspace, a five-piece alt pop band formed in 2017 by friends Harry (drums), Alex (guitar), Rosie (vocals), Miles (bass) and a second Harry (guitar). Now that drummer Harry has upped sticks to university, Alex has switched to drums and Izzy has joined the band on rhythm guitar (I’ll test you on all this in a minute!) You only have to listen to Backspace to feel the camaraderie between close friends and together they create a fun, upfront sound that puts me a bit in mind of Canada’s Alvvays, though there is no keyboard in the mix.
I came across the band’s recent single, “Hold”, when it was chosen for Fresh on the Net’s Listening Post two weeks back. It kicks off with a punchy opening riff a la Sam Fender and builds nicely with some particularly dextrous guitar fills and a strong vocal topline with added harmonies. Lyrically the song covers the familiar territory of relationships with the twist of seeing one from two different perspectives. The band describes it as “not about a personal experience but rather a mash up of situations that we have seen others in”. Promoting empowerment throughout its repertoire, Backspace aim to bring an upbeat resolution to negative experiences.
After something of a break, The Crayon Set, helmed by founder and chief songwriter, Robert Baker, has made a welcome return with the first of a promised series of self-produced singles. While after pandemic delays the Dublin-based quintet finally released its excellent third album, Downer Disco, last year, the new material is the first it has recorded in almost four years. The Crayon Set has an interesting history, taking its core indie-pop sound into new areas via a fluid membership which has culminated in its present line-up.
For this new single, “Love is a Real Place”, the band has moved away from the synth-pop flavourings that peppered Downer Disco, a record that perfectly balanced sadness with sunshine. Here we find reflection and regrets beautifully voiced in the delicate interplay between Robert Baker and Kate Dineen and amplified by the graceful string arrangements by Kilkenny songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ali Comerford, who will also be joining the band for some live dates this autumn. The song is a call to cherish those stand-out moments and experiences in youth before regret sets in, all executed with a rare elegance.
Photo of Nadedja by Saint Sophie
It was equally good to be reacquainted with the work of Newcastle-based Brazilian-born alt-pop songstress, Nadedja, who in a crowded marketplace stands out for me in the way she melds pop, soul and R’n’B influences so well and writes about her thoughts and experiences so honestly. She has an underlying softness to her voice yet can rise to bursts of soulful, heartfelt expression. Her latest single, “Souvenirs of a Parallel Past”, sees more of a raw edge to her sound developing as she recalls youth and exploring sexuality for the first time. In her words, “It captures a turbulent, experimental and almost primal period filled with fleeting devotions and instinctive decisions.” Nadedja exercises great control as she switches across vocal ranges to express the dynamics of the song.
As a bonus here is Nadedja’s previous single, released back in June, with the intriguing title of “Holographic Sickening Love”. Here she encapsulates the irresistible feeling of falling in love; the projected emotions and the intensity of it all. “Writing this song was a very fun and fast process” she says. “I just felt this overwhelming sense of happiness and euphoria, and quickly needed to transform it into a song”. Job done. Her videography on both songs is something else too.
Last Thursday I was pleased to be able to get down to Vanishing Point, Neil March’s monthly alternative music event at AMP Studios at the far end of the Old Kent Road where you can guarantee to be entertained and challenged by a disparate range of sound and music. There will be something to love and the chance to experience music you are unlikely to find in a standard gig venue. The evening opened with an extended single piece of improvised sound and projections from Glider which made me feel I was part of a kind of weird scientific experiment. Interesting.
Photo of Trevas at Vanishing Point by Kevin England
The electronic keyboard-based sounds of local music maker Trevas followed offering strong melodic structures, a hint of dance music and memorable passages including the Japanese styled “Peony” and a final as yet untitled song that boasted particularly strong melody lines. I look forward to him naming that tune especially!
The third act provided a further contrast. I was delighted that ex-High Lamas guitarist Pete Aves began his set with a really imaginative version of the traditional recruiting song, “Arthur McBride”, made famous by Planxty and Paul Brady, both longstanding folk heroes of mine. Pete went on to highlight some original material from his latest album Sweet Are The Uses and mighty fine it was too, delivered with deft guitar work and vocalised with charm and wit. Sadly, travel restrictions meant we could not stay beyond the first couple of pieces from closing act Rookery Ensemble but my memory of the evening was a great endorsement for the broad musical concept Neil brings to Vanishing Point. So here is a Pete Aves song to sign off today's column which, from brief acquaintance, is one which very much reflects his wry persona.