FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: CARRYING THE BATON
Over the past decade Little Majorette, the musical pseudonym of English singer songwriter Zoe Durrant, has taken different paths after starting as a collaboration with Swedish musicians Petter Winnberg and Nils Törnqvist which produced the standout debut album, Rifle Heart, in 2011. After the trio disbanded in 2015, Durrant continued to write songs and her distinctive vocals became very much in demand by a raft of artistes and producers. She also released a chilled solo EP, Island, in 2017.
Zoe Durrant though is clearly emotionally attached to the name Little Majorette which comes from her dream of wanting to become a majorette when she was little, dressing up in a blue costume and dancing around the room. She also used to collect toy cars produced by the cult French brand, Majorette, as a child. Now Little Majorette returns, leading from the front with a brand-new EP, Waves, in association with producer Peter Ågren from Swedish band, The Amplifetes, featuring four songs each with a distinctive vibe. It’s rare that a song can be simultaneously as hyper catchy as this while remaining elusive and intriguing. Voici “Les Chasseurs et Les Cueilleurs.”
Little Majorette drew initial inspiration for the song from viewing the 1960s film, The Collector, featuring Terence Stamp. Her song title translates to 'hunters and gatherers' and through it Durrant gives us her personal take on infatuation; that feeling of being so infatuated with someone, you try to time being in the same place at the same time, overwhelmed by a desire to get close to them to get to know them better. Confessing she likes to sing in French sometimes - everything sounds better sung in French, she says - it's equally a song for which the over-used term ‘earworm’ could have been coined.
Little Majorette plans to keep her baton twirling by writing more songs with Peter Ågren in Stockholm when travel becomes easier and work towards the release of an album next year and hopefully some live shows. She is open to further collaborations with other artistes and producers too. Meanwhile here is a second cut from Waves. “Not Mine” showcases a mellow, restrained side of Little Majorette as it charts how experiences shape character and you can almost become a stranger to yourself.
Photo of Mega Bog by Jasper McMahon
It is possible that the imaginings of childhood inspired the name of our next act, Mega Bog, the alias of song-animator Erin Birgy, though, whatever the story, it is unlikely to involve the likes of Majorette outfits and toy cars. However, it is quite an appropriate name for an avant-pop artiste who seems to create worlds within worlds in her work. Ahead of a new album, Life, and Another, which hits on 23 July, Mega Bog has shared its lead single, “Station to Station.” If there is one, the titular nod in the direction of David Bowie perhaps denotes that Mega Bog shares the late Thin White Duke’s spirit of experimentation and reinvention.
The enigmatic video accompanying “Station to Station” places Erin Birgy in a comparatively arid landscape, not bogged down yet besmirched with the clays of Colorado’s Paint Mines, once collected by American Indians to make paint. It is a landscape populated and interspersed with past lives and distant memories. Stately synths propel Birgy’s otherworldly diction as she reflects on change and loss: ‘All I’m left with are my lines’. It’s an intriguing preview to an album which will challenge and fascinate at every turn.
New Orleans-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ric Robertson embraces a wide range of American music styles in keeping with the Louisiana city’s rich heritage. Receiving the press release about Robertson’s forthcoming album release, Carolina Child, due on 30 July, I was doubly encouraged by his collaboration with Lucius; one of the best live acts I’ve had the privilege of watching. Robertson used to be in the band and the new album is produced by Lucius’ Dan Molad and features its brilliant singers, Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Ric Robertson, solo, hardly disappoints either.
The album is announced via the fine single, “Getting Over Our Love”. With a supple Southern burr that’s always easy on the ear, Robertson’s vocal has a presence and an underlying sincerity to it too. Reverb coupled with soft underpinning harmonies from the Lucius girls really brings the words to the fore while the instrumentation creates a wonderfully textured backdrop as Robertson wonders whether ‘Do you think of me when I think of you / Or are you out with somebody else getting over our love?’ A bittersweet perfection.
Photo of Squirrel Flower by Tonje Thilesen
Album announcements come thick and fast this time of year as labels work to get ahead before the summer break. Another act with a new one soon to land is Squirrel Flower, the moniker of Arlington, Massachusetts native Ella Williams whose Planet (i) goes into orbit on 25 June. This will be the third studio full-length from an artiste who gave herself the Squirrel Flower nickname as a child. Planet (i)is an imagined world where people will settle after leaving Earth and inevitably go on to destroy, as well as a musical reflection of her own inner and outer worlds. Disaster equally takes its cue from the current world around us.
New single, “Flames and Flat Tires”, was actually written when the songstress was in the UK to record the album at Bristol studio, The Playpen. It channels a survival instinct alongside images of fires and broken cars. Williams’ resigned tones disguise an inner resolve to move forward and change on her own terms while distressed guitar chords create an ominous background for disquiet. With a September US tour supporting Soccer Mommy lined up, Squirrel Flower may be in need of machinery that works but has the determination to use her stage as a platform to help mend a broken planet.
Photo of Wye Oak by Jade Wilson
Last week we finally caught up with Baltimore native, Jenn Wasner, in her Flock of Dimes guise and I remarked then on her prodigious work ethic. The multitasking Wasner is also one half of Wye Oak, alongside Andy Stack. With six studio albums behind it followed by two singles and an EP last year, the pairing is hardly standing still either. Having now shared a new song, “TNT”, we learn it is the first of two new tracks with a common theme examining the ways we get to understand ourselves better, even when least expected. The companion song, “Its Way With Me”, will appear on 22 June.
Despite its explosive-sounding title, “TNT” takes a gentle path reflective of the changing seasons and the repetition inherent in nature’s cycle, “using the passing of time as a means of reflecting on your own growth” in Jenn Wasner’s own words. It celebrates personal progress while recognising stumbling blocks: ‘I’ve been writing the same song over and over and over again’. Her dreamily slurred infections in the main vocal and beautifully layered harmonies against mellow guitar and percussion create a perfect vehicle for such reflections.
You can access a new Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist every month. With the rider that they have to be available on Spotify of course, it features all the songs from that month’s Fifty3 Fridays. The May Playlist with 25 songs in the order they appeared over the past 4 weeks in this column is now live.