FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: FISH ‘N’ TIPS
This strange looking tips jar reminds me of a goldfish bowl, a receptacle singularly unfit for purpose when it comes to providing an enriched environment for pet fish. Yet it serves as a suitable marker for our times, especially as it is empty. Let’s admit it, lockdowns haven’t dealt many decent cards to the performing arts. While independent musicians valiantly continue to offer live streams, many with great success artistically, a ‘tips jar’ hardly competes with the seat numbers, ticket prices and bolt-on merchandising associated with acts further up the food chain. Whether by market forces or plain bad luck, there are winners and losers in this pandemic game; people with far too much and those with little or nothing.
Assuming you do have enough to get by, one thing that lockdowns have offered, however, is the possibility of reinvention. If necessity is the proverbial mother of invention, then having more time on your hands might do the same for reinvention. Enter, as they say in theatres, Third Girl From The Left, the new moniker for a seasoned singer-songwriter based in Devon, established as the Covid crisis took hold. Wishing now to be only known as Third Girl From The Left, she took the name from a 1973 TV movie written by American lyricist and singer-songwriter, Dory Previn. She found herself identifying with the NYC Chorus Girl, played by Kim Novak in the film, bumped from the frontline on grounds of age. Embarking on this new musical journey in her late forties, she has overcome self-imposed barriers with the realisation that she will always write and create music: “It’s who I am, regardless of perceptions.”
Today sees the release of her debut EP, Oxygen, with the video to the title track above in keeping with the times. Choreography created and danced by Nicky Burke in her own kitchen, with Third Girl herself adding the naturalistic film edit, projects a strong, fearless woman – a life-force battling darker spirits. Musically Third Girl From The Left's sound blends field recordings with elastic, whispery vocals, pulsing synths, small bursts of guitar, skittish percussion and occasionally a much loved 1920's zither banjo. There is an intimacy that draws you in to her work and a fresh sense of experimentation that signals her individuality. Her trippy lyrics meander with a capability to both calm or unsettle you. To hear more from this intriguing artiste, please buy the full Oxygen EP via Bandcamp.
Life is but a series of connections. Before you arrange a Zoom session with your cohort to consider the profundity of that statement, it’s really a simple case of one thing leading to another. The press release accompanying Third Girl From The Left’s EP flagged both Polly Scattergood and Portishead as signposts to her work. I could already see some connection with Portishead, but needed to refresh myself of all things Polly Scattergood as, other than her adorably wonderful name, sadly I could recall little about her since her 2009 debut album. It is though easy to lose your way in my mental filing system which is akin to the Red Room in Twin Peaks; so, a proper browse was in order revealing, among similar treasures, this exquisite song “After You”.
“After You” reflects on a friend’s death, its emotive plea encompassed in the line “Tell me why do you insist on dying / every time I close my eyes”. Yet there is also something uplifting about how the lyrics are framed by the art of electronica; all swirling keys, sparkling synths and heavenly layered vocals. The song is from Polly Scattergood’s, fine third solo album, In This Moment, released in July 2020; there was a second sandwiched in between (Arrows, 2013) plus a side project with MAPS under the name of onDeadWaves. Evoking a journey in a series of snapshots, the album celebrates new motherhood, mixing joy with the challenges that life presents. Connection gladly remade.
Songs about the death of someone close hold a certain resonance for both the writer and the listener. They can celebratory or simply mournful, but in the hands of a skilful songwriter, a personal truth can be received as universal. I was reminded of an especially sensitive tribute penned by Pennsylvanian, Denison Witmer, in the wake of the sad passing of a friend’s four-month-old baby who shared his first name. The soft, airy piano ballad, “Catalina Love”, was included on Witmer’s exceptional 2020 album, American Foursquare, which is available digitally although the physical versions are still to follow, delayed due to Covid-related supply chain issues according to Witmer’s label, Asthmatic Kitty.
Back in August, we highlighted the musical project of LA’s Jilian Medford, IAN SWEET, via her arresting single, “Dumb Driver”. While we have to wait till 5 March before her album, Show Me How You Disappear, drops there is another tantalising glimpse into her world with a new single/video, “Drink The Lake”. Medford has known some dark times with mental health struggles and conceived the album post-therapy. She is an open and honest songwriter with an ear for a great tune too. Speaking about the new single she commented that it “taps into my own twisted logic to try and break away from obsessive thought patterns. It turned into a pop anthem of seemingly silly ways to try and forget someone, like saying their name backwards, but I feel these devices contributed to my healing.” In the accompanying, self-directed video, she floats disturbingly if serenely amid scenes of apprentice funeral directors re-enacting Lord of the Flies.
Continuing a cinematic link, for me IAN SWEET’s videos have something of a David Lynchian feel to them and should there ever be a series 4 of Twin Peaks, then Jilian Medford would undoubtedly get a gig at the Bang Bang Bar, or The Roadhouse as we Peakies still prefer to call it. So, I will leave you with this marvellous video montage/remix I came across on YouTube of “Shadow” by the great band Chromatics, a song featured so potently at the end of Part 2 of Twin Peaks: The Return.