FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN
Searching for a theme to marry some outwardly disparate songs together, it’s strange how odd lyrics seem to spring to mind. Today I recalled the classic opener from Black Sabbath’s 1970 hit “Paranoid”: “Finished with my woman / ‘cause she couldn't help me with my mind”. Maybe Ozzy should have dated a psychologist. A year earlier Led Zeppelin (pictured above) unleashed its self-titled debut album including the song “Communication Breakdown”, replete with a trademark Jimmy Page downstroke riff and a screaming Robert Plant unable to tell his girl how he loves her. Neither song is likely to pass a woke test these days. That said, communication today may have never been easier yet simultaneously it feels just as difficult.
We first encountered Brighton siblings, Henry and John Tydeman, aka Barbara, in February via their memorable debut single "BRB" which took its cues thematically from artificial intelligence and social media. The downside of social media is now central to the band’s latest release, “These New Communications”. The song considers how the internet has mutated from laudable, world-changing ambitions into something where the dark lurks not only in corners. Equally, for all its positive impacts, social media channels harbour an unholy alliance of conspiracy theorists, populist leaders and their blind followers, bringing a threat of perilous real-world consequences.
Ironically all this is soundtracked in the most gloriously inviting fashion. Like its predecessor “BRB”, “These New Communications” evokes a mid-70’s feel with echoes of the likes of 10cc in the way the song cleverly unfolds. Its smooth melodic progressions also carry a hint of Belle & Sebastian about them. There’s a richness to both the instrumentation and the Tydeman brothers’ vocal harmonies, punctuated by short sparser passages that let the words really shine and the meaning pop out. It’s wholly admirable that music can be this philosophical and intelligent, and you can dance to it too.
Through her collaborations with local producer, Balloon Twister Records, stylish singer-songwriter Berry Brown has frequented these pages before. The Oxford-based R&D technician by day has a new song out via Balloon Twister, “I Saw Fire”, which is a testament to the good things that can come from close connections. Speaking about the song, she confesses to have stopped writing for around a year, bereft of inspiration or focus. In a kind of communication breakdown in reverse, Brown started a new job and found a real connection to a work friend on a musical level.
Creating playlists and sharing songs with each other to get through the working day ignited Brown’s passion for how music is created and her joy in over-analysing lyrics blossomed. Back writing again every day, she penned “I Saw Fire” as a thank-you to him. From the opening bass notes there is a warmth to this song that is quickly built on by Berry Brown’s sweetly fragile vocal with its subtle die-aways, cracks and swoops. Hinting at an even deeper bond, the lyrics gently unwind a tale of grateful thanks and growing togetherness. She is now also working with a separate producer, Amsterdam’s Yuri Runs, on her new album and hopes to play some live gigs once that’s out.
North London singer-songwriter and DIY producer Tzarina Nassor has put out a small selection of self-produced songs so far, the latest of which, “House on Fire” rather came and went under the radar last year. Thankfully the song has resurfaced and a bit more support should see the 20-year-old artiste building her fan base further. Her influences are eclectic by nature - from Sylvan Esso to Club Nouveau, Mac Miller to Hans Zimmer – and these radiates through her highly individual cross-genre sound, making her music hard to pigeonhole. Her ability to engage is also amply revealed in a Q&A session on Youtube.
“House on Fire” uses a domestic fire as a simple yet telling metaphor for the climate emergency. An opening bass beat, choral effects and percussion give way to a softly spoken ‘love letter to our planet’, as the singer applies a micro story to a worldwide situation. Inventive harmonies pepper her semi-sung lines and there’s a nicely effective bridge that adds an elevating note as piano kicks in. Barring the odd sound glitch, you can’t escape the underlying vibrancy of Tzarina Nassor’s music. She brings an endearing charm and sincerity to it. “House on Fire” demonstrates that hers is a raw talent that fully deserves nurturing. More new music is expected soon.
A DIY approach of a different kind is demonstrated by our next act, Wiltshire indie-pop quartet Wasuremono who released the first half of double-album, Let’s Talk, Pt. 1, last Friday. The band name means something forgotten or left behind; on this evidence, a fate that is unlikely to befall it. Set up as the musical project of multi-instrumentalist William Southward, the meticulously arranged atmospheric pop songs that form the album are recorded in his shed studio in Bradford-On-Avon and released on his own label, The Wilderness Records. The full band comprises Southward, Madelaine Ryan on keys and siblings Isaac (drums) and Phoebe Phillips (bass).
“An Ordinary Life” see Southward seeking just that – a little simplicity and fulfilment for himself and an apparently reluctant partner. There’s the sense of a quest behind it and a new-found maturity. As the songwriter himself explained: “It is about big changes and the unexpected twists and turns of life, but discovering the simple things in life can be the most important and have the most meaning”. The result is a gloriously anthemic song, a sugar-rush of sentiments set to waves of expansive melody which vanquish the sadness revealed at the start and replace it with a new optimism. The audacity to rhyme ‘children’ with ‘Oxytocin’ deserves a mention too.
Making a return to #Fifty3Fridays but in a different guise is British/American singer-songwriter, Anna Renae. The lightness of touch she brings to balance the pleasing precision of her vocals is still very much evident but the vehicle for her latest output has taken a left field turn from acoustic folk to house music. Her new single, “Haunted”, is a blissful collaboration with progressive trance producer Leo Lauretti and melodic house producer Vault 14. This musical union came about after Lauretti approached Renae when seeking a vocalist.
“Haunted” is the first of several such partnerships that the singer has in the pipeline with Lauretti and others he has introduced her to who work in similar genres. Receiving the backing track first, Anna Renae writes the melodies and lyrics on top and then records the vocals myself at home which are subsequently mixed to create the finished track. Communication, of course, is not that easy with a ghost. Couching a lost love in spectral space, Renae’s pure vocals gently oscillate between therapy and yearning as she asks “How can you free a heart that’s haunted?” Her new venture is absolutely something she wants to keep pursuing, so expect to hear more from her in the coming months.
Photo of Blánid by Henry James
And now from hauntings to heartbreak. Irish singer-songwriter Blánid announced her fresh new talent last month via her debut single, “Fool's Gold”. Vocally she blends a traditional folk lilt with jazz and modern tones. She has an emotive and eloquent voice with a confessional song style that compels attention to her carefully chosen words. Appropriately her name means little flower in Gaelic. Blánid has been busy over the past year or two paving the way for her original music through her highly individual interpretations of classic and modern songs, which have gained her a big following on Instagram.
Blánid only began writing original material in the summer of 2019 and “Fool’s Gold” is actually the second song she wrote. It is a personal story of unrequited love and heartbreak that slowly builds from crystalline openings, welling up into a more fulsome sound that never overwhelms and always supports the keenly voiced sentiments. The melody has a traditional flavour to it and it works with Blánid’s exquisite lead vocal and harmonies just perfectly. The final lines of the song are especially poignant, as an increasingly forlorn hope is met with reluctant realisation: “I will love you till I’m old / Even though it’s fool’s gold”.
Finally, on a lighter note if you’ve got this far, let’s rewind to our opening theme via Weird Al’s wonderfully inspired “First World Problems” from 2014; still a perfect satire for our times, not least for how it references modern communications. “Some idiot just called me up on the phone, what!? Don't they know how to text?” OMG indeed.