FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: GOOD ENOUGH FOR FOLK
There’s this old chestnut about the guy at the Open Mic night who spends over five minutes in an agonisingly laboured attempt to tune his guitar, while giving an embarrassing running commentary, only to pause eventually and smugly look up. “OK, good enough for folk” he proudly announces while deliberately playing a discord. See what he did there? Left you entirely unsure as to whether he is uncommitted to his craft, tone deaf or a born comedian; most probably all three. There is a solution, of course. Get it in tune and take up welding…
Thankfully independent music rests in much safer hands with the likes of The Happy Somethings in its ranks. When I first encountered this endearingly spirited and resourceful trio, I was immediately amused by the band’s whereabouts being depicted as hanging around the Derbyshire/Notts borders. I had visions of strange neighbourhood disputes and a supreme act of fence sitting in the unlikely event of war breaking out in the twin shires. We should be blessed that the anonymised triumvirate of Happy, Jolly and Joy continue to hang around creating new music at a fair rate of knots. Usually seen hiding behind dolls in knitwear images, the new band pic (above) is cool too.
The band’s latest EP, Lollipop Licks, is wholly in keeping with its mission to spread a little happiness in these grey times. The bright stuff might be balanced by more downbeat reflections at times but there is plenty of musical light to go with any lyrical shade. A case in point being the opening track, “Forward Now”, featured above: a bittersweet tale of seemingly unrequited love tempered by the redeeming power of the potential to dream. Driven by precise tremolo chords over bassy strumming and decorated with characteristically charming harmonies, “Forward Now” should fast become a fan favourite. Joy’s lead vocal is warm and inviting; one for those jingle jangle mornings.
The 4-track EP continues with the insistently catchy “Ignore You”; a song of joyous anger, according to the band as “most people go through experiences of feeling very let down at some point - writing a song about it feels like buying a packet of Rolos and eating the last one yourself!” There is then a song dedicated to the wonderful Dr Neil March who readers will know through his many Trust The Doc guises. The great champion of emerging music artistes now has a song written about him, “Doctor Lollipop”, inspired by a chance conversation with Joy and Happy which revealed that they had all lived in a sleepy South Devon town where a young Neil had attained fame as the town’s first lollipop man!
Finally, we get “Pretty Pants”, a splendidly frenetic ode to ageing less than gracefully. You can clearly sense the fun The Happy Somethings had putting these songs together as the product of post- lockdown get togethers. Rather than just pick ‘n’ mix, check out the whole works along with the band’s prolific catalogue over at Bandcamp. As with all its music, the EP is available for free download or optional donation. Go for the latter! Back to the pants. Watch this if you fancy being hypnotised at the same time.
Something from the pop mainstream next but, I trust, equally worthy of your aural attention. Having previously sung the praises of Brighton’s Maisie Peters via her enduringly catchy recent single, “Psycho”, I was pleased to get the chance to listen to her fulsome 14-track debut album, You Signed Up For This, which achieved a fan base-fuelled #2 position in the UK album charts on its release. The album begins with the title track and a memorable opening line that maybe speaks for an entirely generation and certainly sets a tone for the whole record: “I am 20 and probably upset right now”.
Ah, the trials and tribulations of youth. The whole album takes us on a journey through the artiste’s teenage years, diarising her coming of age in a manner that is curiously both self-effacing and self-confident, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms [err, it is – Ed]. Maisie seems perfectly happy to relay stories of her adolescence and young adulthood openly, laying bare those past desires and embarrassments for all to hear. She dispenses tongue-in-cheek yet sharp self-assessments with wit and charm, conquering her inner doubts and insecurities by a steely belief in her abilities. The result is a polished song collection with earworms aplenty amid crisp production littered with current pop influences.
Photo of Alex Jayne by Laurie Barraclough
We first made acquaintance with Shropshire-native, Alex Jayne, around a year ago through her dreamy night drive contemplation, “Backseat”. The London-based artiste is back with her first release of 2021 that will lead to a debut EP in due course. An equally atmospheric track, “Hollywood”, provides an entrancing glimpse into the illusions that many grasp onto and get hurt by. She uses Hollywood to represent a kind of utopia that, in the singer’s words, “two lovers are searching for but can’t find in each other.”
“I guess it’s a letter to myself, knowing it’s okay and I’ll search again for that perfect place” Alex adds. Whatever the future holds for her, there is little doubt that she is carving a niche for herself with her alt-pop sensibilities perfectly carried by a distinctively rich, airy vocal tone. The opening descending guitar notes demand attention while production echo and delay add further evocation which is complemented by sonorous guitar and background synths. This all combines to give a cinematic feel to a beautifully emotive song in keeping with its central metaphor.
Crossing the pond now where we find Lionlimb, previously known as the project of Stewart Bronaugh and Joshua Jaeger, from Angel Olsen’s backing band. After two albums between 2016 and 2018, the band had a hiatus returning, now helmed solely by Bronaugh, to announce a new 10-track album, Spiral Groove, due in November. The record promises a timeless collection of songs, born out of Bronaugh’s recovery from neck surgery, in which he reflects on mortality, the twin challenges of addiction and sobriety, and the romance of a lifetime. As a taster, Bronaugh has shared the intriguing lead single, “Loveland Pass”.
Opening with ambient sounds reflecting the steps across a stony landscape in the accompanying video, “Loveland Pass” is a piano-driven reflection on the songwriter’s experience of suffering panic attacks for the first time a couple years ago. “It was like a door opened I never knew existed and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to stop or control them,” explained Bronaugh. Loveland Pass is a high mountain pass in north-central Colorado, the site of several avalanches, plane and car crashes. The song very purposely conveys the lack of control arising from the sudden onset of a panic attack, similar to these kinds of incidents but with a note of hope sounded by the closing line: “By the time you come around it's gone”.
We close this week’s eclectic bag with an inspiring instrumental that seems to follow on nicely from Lionlimb’s ruminations. Described as an enigmatic animal mask-clad folk-horror band – and you don’t get many of them round these parts - Ghosts of Torrez first apparated in 2017 under the name of Bong Torrez and featured on the horror animation short, The Place. Now working as a trio, the band resurfaced last month with a single aptly titled “The Return”, on the appealingly-named Prank Monkey Records. Despite the singular caption on the video below these are definitely Ghosts plural. With an arrestingly melodic central theme, gentle acoustic arpeggios and a subtle palette of electronic effects, it’s very much a piece that takes you there, wherever you wish that to be.