FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD
So, it is just 14 days to Christmas Day. Today I find myself pushed for time and in search, if not of the lost chord, then of a theme (2 points if you get the oblique reference to an old Moody Blues album there). Chords I have a-plenty unlike those hapless souls trying still to negotiate a Brexit deal as they struggle to strike one with one another. At least this has given us back the BBC’s Brexitcast; one light in a seemingly endless tunnel. What I have for you today though is not a quick way to register for VAT in 27 countries but six disparate but rewarding tracks to stimulate your synaesthesia; one of my favourite words and a thin excuse to tweet this piece to Susie Dent.
I begin with Machina X, an intriguing electro duo who work over 5,000 miles apart yet still seem to produce music that sounds like it has been crafted together in the same room, rather than across different time-zones and continents. Annie from Sheffield and Cyrus who is Burmese and based in Yangon grew their collaborative partnership having met through an online song-writing course in 2016. The band name, Machina X came together two years later, fed by the significance of machines for making its music, and inspired by the pair’s mutual love of the Sci-fi film, Ex Machina. The duo’s latest offering, “Wolves”, is sprinkled with seasonal magic and lovingly accompanied by a video of great charm and wonder.
“Wolves” successfully weaves a traditional folk melody seamlessly in with electronic and organic instrumental sounds, reflecting the band’s genre-fluid approach to its compositions. It is unified by Annie’s vocal which has its suitably ethereal qualities alongside a playful innocence in storytelling. Speaking about the song, Annie explains: “Our aim is to take the listener into an 'other worldliness' - an enchanting game of hide and seek, where the lives of wolves and humans socially overlap. We're fascinated by these playful creatures and the many comparisons that can be drawn between our two species.”
Staying in the electronica arena but offering a different kind of chilled is two-piece electro pop band VEALA who released its debut single last Friday, “Indecision”. The duo, comprising Sarah Munro and Matt Kersey, have spent lockdowns writing, recording and cultivating a captivating DIY bedroom-pop sound which draws influences from across the pop timeline - spanning Fleetwood Mac to Tame Impala. Both have had stints in other bands, with Munro putting out two albums under her own name, before coalescing as VEALA, the name a corruption of a must-have Vela guitar they bought.
“Indecision” takes its cue from the frustration of not being able to get through to someone; watching them dart from one thing to another, deluded and living in a dream world can be equally intoxicating as it is frustrating. The song is carried by a hypnotic riff and haunting bass line while Munro’s vocal glides in and out in dreamy waves. It has a great build and gentle come-down coda. VEALA hope to release an EP towards the end of 2021 and have a follow-up single “Afterlife” carded for March.
A month ago, we featured the fast-emerging Belfast singer-songwriter BEA and her exceptional debut single, “These Streets of Ours”. Not waiting for the paint to dry, the young artiste has already followed up with “Ghost”. Once again BEA has captured her thoughts and expressed them most imaginatively, this time within a tale about the fallout from a relationship with someone who is palpably not on the same wavelength. There is a genuine poetry to her lyrics which is beautifully realised by her gentle vocal inflections and great sense of melody. Equally impressive are the dynamics, as the song builds towards her self-characterisation as a ghost in the relationship. Simply wonderful.
From ghosts to goats if you can forgive that feeble link. South London four-piece Goat Girl impressed with its 2018 sprawling, 19-track eponymous debut album; so much so that the band nabbed a spot on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury Festival the following summer, a true rites-of-passage for any upcoming indie band. A second album, On All Fours, is due to land on 29 January. Having earlier shared the lead single, “Sad Cowboy”, Goat Girl recently previewed another cut in the form of “The Crack”. It is attended by a compellingly surreal video directed by Molly, the sister of lead guitarist and vocalist, Lottie Pendlebury. Molly also made the co-joined costumes and masks used by the gang of four and shot the film on Botany Bay (in Kent, not Australia).
Clamorous guitar chords cement the melody, embellished by touches of strings and brass as the song progresses while there is a tinge of yearning in the lead vocal delivery that also befits the environmental message that appears to underpin the song. You could probably write a short course around the imagery in both song and video as the players emerge from the dirt to escape to a new, virgin world untarnished by human activity. Should any aliens land this evening I think they would also seek out and enjoy it.
To close, here are a couple of little gems that passed across my desk this week. I did not know a great deal about Minneapolis-born visual artist and singer-songwriter Morly (aka Katy Morley) for whom the emotive single “Twain Harte" represents her first new material for three years. On the strength of this beautiful snapshot of a distanced love affair, we can really look forward to further releases next year. There is a happy ending too as finding herself falling in love with someone across the Atlantic, Morly moved from Los Angeles to London this year to join her partner.
There is a circular feel to the final song choice this week too. I recall seeing the Irish born and British raised singer-songwriter Holly Macve play an intimate show at the elegantly austere early 19th century church of St John on Bethnal Green in East London back in 2017. Her debut album, Golden Eagle, was a personal favourite that year and her vocal style, recalling country icons of past times, was a melismatic delight. It seems apt then that the video to Macve’s Christmas single out this week was filmed in a church; the grand space of All Saints in Hove, Sussex. “Wonder” is a toast to nostalgia and bring with it a vision of the sights, signs and people we associate with Christmas time and may miss this year. Wonderful indeed.