FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: HARASSED BY LIFE
I often struggle with how to introduce this weekly column. Sometimes I latch onto topicality or just lead with a thing I need to get off my chest. At times it can be a middling attempt at humour. Half an hour ago I had no idea what to write [no change there – Ed] and then I read an interview in today’s i-newspaper with Brian May and thought I feel exactly as he does about so many aspects of life today; about politics, post-truth, AI and more. He has a neat expression for it: “harassed by life”.
This may be an age thing. You think as you get to your advanced years that you have acquired a wee bit of wisdom along the way and then you continually experience a total absence of the W word impacting so many components of modern life. The i-interview with Shaun Curran is a great piece which goes on to cover aspects of Brian’s relationship with music, with Queen and gives some telling insights into his close bond with the late Freddy Mercury. Well worth a read.
I have followed the musical journey of the prodigious Indiana-raised sister act Lily & Madeleine, since first seeing them live at London’s Bush Hall in 2014, then veterans of an EP and two albums yet with a combined age of just 36. Everything the Jurkiewicz siblings have put out subsequently has been imbued with a relaxed poise and a distinctive sisterly stamp that marks it their own. Despite their prolific beginnings, nothing else has been hurried and the albums that came after the duo’s self-titled debut in 2013 and 2014’s Fumes its follow-up, Keep It Together (2016) and Canterbury Girls (2019) were measured, consummate works. Number 5 will surface in October, heralded by this gorgeous cut.
"Windowless Bedroom", the first single from Lily & Madeleine's forthcoming album Nite Swim, opens with stately piano chords, before a leisurely groove develops punctuated by sonic flourishes and cymbal peals. Over this the duo’s lead lines and trademark harmonies waft in and out, economically spinning a tapestry of words signifying a self-deprecating hollowness. Looking for a way out of the metaphorical windowless bedroom, the pair use their imagination to find a much better place. The video’s dreamscape is set in the Healer art space in Lily and Mad’s hometown of Indianapolis which adds a surreal note to the song’s core sense that one’s life can be just fine yet equally ambiguous in its meaning. This is a welcome return for an inimitable pairing.
Not quite crossing the pond but it’s across the water to Ireland next where we find Dublin-based five-piece, The Crayon Set. Readers will recall that I have championed this fine indie-pop band since first making its acquaintance early in 2021 through its single, “Moments”. The song went on to appear on the outfit’s third album, Downer Disco, which was one of the year’s standouts for me. The Crayon Set has long been a labour of love for its founder and main songwriter, Robert Baker. After a break, the band returned in October with the elegiac single “Love is a Real Place” and I am pleased to report that the next in a planned series of self-produced singles has now come up for sun.
Appropriately then the new song is titled “Sunlounger” and it is chiefly about… lounging in the sun. For one moment, I was going to ascribe some of it to climate change – “An ice-cube melts / a sunflower dies” - so it is refreshingly grounding to hear from Robert that there is no sub-text to the song, big personal statement, or the like. “Sometimes a song is just a song” as he coyly puts it. “Sunlounger” was inspired by the 1969 French movie La Piscine (1969), a ‘thriller’ which seems chiefly to comprise scenes of beautiful people doing little more than lounging around a pool looking ridiculously chic. The accompanying video uses footage borrowed from the film while regular collaborator Ali Comerford contributes strings whose modulations hint at the opening to Wings’ “Band on the Run”. Once again, it’s a lovely piece of work from The Crayon Set who I do hope one day will be rich and famous and able to lounge around pools occasionally.
From a song that might not be about climate change to one that decidedly is. Broken Bear, the pairing of multi-instrumentalists Laura Callaghan and Paul Smart can be found in the leafy lanes of Tadworth, Surrey, probably not that far from Epsom racecourse. Indeed, I was at The Grumpy Mole recently and wondered whether I might have passed by their door. Fronted by guitarist-vocalist Laura while Paul looks after the bass and synths, the duo has released two EPs and in April announced a third one, Follow My Leader, from which a second single has now been shared.
The inescapably titled “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is unashamedly polemic, taking swipes at utility businesses that place profit at any cost as their mission statement and governments that look the other way in the face of the climate emergency. Musically the frustration is channelled through grungy guitars awash with reverb and decorated by squeals of feedback while Laura’s vocal has a bluesy yearning to it especially in the lamenting choruses. There’s a neat contrast in the moments when her voice is subtly layered. This is a track that commands attention from its chugging opening pierced by clean guitar downstrokes right through to its quiet resolution. Broken maybe but unbowed.
Our next stop is London where we find an international meeting of musical minds in the form of Amilost, the Norwegian-British trio of classically trained vocalist and producer Sigrid Zeiner-Gundersen, Glaswegian drummer and co-producer Ross Craib and Cornish bass player Charlie Fowler. Each brings varying influences to the mix; Sigrid was nurtured on Grieg and Mozart yet at 15 sang in a Scandinavian metal band, Ross paid his dues in hard rock bands but found himself at ease with the softer vibe of alt-pop while Charlie was embedded in pop-rock and the surf scene of his native Cornwall. The astute band name, chosen after much deliberation, reflects the searching, questioning aspect of much of its songwriting.
“Maybe It's You” is from Amilost’s debut EP, Introspective Souvenirs, the songs on which share a common thread of looking within for answers to how our experiences shape us while tenderly dealing with themes of anxiety, love, escapism and aspiration. According to the band "Maybe It’s You is about finding your own strength and independence” with the opening line “Holes in the road / always try to avoid them” inspired by a conversation Sigrid had with her mum some years ago about how you at times need some guidance to steer clear of life’s ‘potholes’. Leaning on the rhythms of traditional song and blending some Imogen Heap style vocal effects alongside organic sound samples, Amilost has created a beautifully uplifting song.
As a bonus, this is rather special too as a cast of ten perform a live studio version of “Pillowside”, Amilost’s debut single released last August. There are shades of Bon Iver meeting Sigur Ros about this one. You can catch Amilost wherever you are via a livestream show on Wed 19 July at 7pm beamed from a location on England’s south-west coast. Details are HERE.
For our final two choices this week I have the Spotify algorithm to thank. When I get to the end of an album or playlist I have been listening to, this AI intervention will helpfully play a selection of music usually in a similar vein until I intervene as a human. While I can’t say I always like what I am given and worry about quite how/why the choices are sanctioned, it does sometimes reveal a gem or two. The first is a current single “Into The Blue” from Southern California’s Gal Musette who is soon to release her sophomore LP, Pendulum.
The second is from Laura Loeters from Antwerp, Belgium and Hamburg-based Gregor Sonnenberg who are collectively known as The Day. This track, “We Killed Our Hearts”, is from The Day’s 2019 album Midnight Parade and appears to have clocked a serious number of Spotify plays. Should you be in Germany in late August and anywhere near Hamminkeln you can catch The Day at the Cheesecake Festival. Nice!