FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: MAKING UP THE NUMBERS
Happy anniversary! Recalling that I started Fifty3 Fridays exactly one year ago this day, it makes today the Fifty3rd Friday. At this point you may wish to mumble something weird about Hurley’s numbers and get that Lost box set out again before next playing the lottery. Much water has passed under the proverbial bridge in the past twelve months, most of it in this unseasonably wet month, while over 300 acts have graced this column. Although in itself, that seems like a decent number, what I do is, by its nature, selective and the sheer scale of new music output often results in overwhelm.
So, I am the first to admit I miss things.
A case in point is the splendid Flock of Dimes album, Head of Roses, which came out a full two months ago. It’s a regrettable oversight as this is an artiste I have held in the highest regard since she first stepped through a door in a bookcase in East London. I speak of Flock of Dimes’ live appearance at The Victoria, Dalston in October 2016 and, yes, you do indeed access the small, black-walled gig room, Harry Potter-style, via a bookcase. One half of the successful indie twosome, Wye Oak, Jenn Wasner first appeared under her solo Flock of Dimes moniker a month earlier that year with the release of an inspired debut album, If You See Me, Say Yes.
Never one to stand still, and with even less intention to set limits on creative output, she went on to put out two studio albums with Wye Oak, go on tour as a band member of Bon Iver, produce a record for Madeline Kenny, release a 5-track EP last year, Like So Much Desire, and now her second album under the Flock of Dimes banner, Head of Roses. It’s an ambitious record that runs the gauntlet between deep reflection and bold imagination, fuelled by revaluation of a post-break up life and fired by a well-earned confidence in her art.
From the latest album, “One More Hour” encapsulates the sense of reappraising a relationship and the internal conflict this sparks; what makes imagining a golden past or dreaming of a bright future have such a hold over present realities. This idea is beautifully acted out in the way Jenn Wasner’s voice switches from purely dry to layers of rich reverb and delay effects. Her vocals hold such sway that the instrumental backing becomes textural, fitting her thesis without imposing on it. By the end of the song, she seems to be settling for the present: “If I could have anything / I'd take one more hour, now.”
Photo of Flock of Dimes at The Victoria, Dalston Oct 2016 by Kevin England
Before leaving Flock of Dimes, I also wanted to share the song from the debut album that first caught my ear back in 2016. “Semaphore” carries the flag for an old means of communication used primarily on ships. It may seem an odd image to contemplate in a digital age and at the time appears to highlight Wasner’s then inner concerns about her ability to express herself. However, I have always thought it is by contrast such an uplifting song in that it shows her real strength is to communicate through her music; a skill that she has continued to fashion throughout her latest work.
Another who seems to share Jenn Wasner’s wholesome appetite for work is Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter and music collaborator Emily Zuzik. She has featured here previously both as a solo act and in partnership with Massachusetts producer, Trip Jacker. She has a further project which includes producer/composer Josh Ricchio and drummer Kolby Wade. The trio goes by the name of Woves and has a second single out today, “So Used to Heartbreak”, which is from Woves' forthcoming album, Chaos Mesa.
Written by Ricchio with Zuzik contributing chorus ideas, “So Used to Heartbreak” has a danceable, Depeche Mode ring to it. Ricchio steers the lead vocal; his brittle high tones are nicely balanced by Zuzik’s dreamily seductive alto in the choruses. The song plays with concepts of heartbreak and interestingly both singers offer a different take on it. “The singer is so used to being heartbroken, that feeling of wanting to die every time, that they might as well die in the person's arms while it happens again" writes Josh Ricchio. "Or, the singer is telling their lover that they're trapped by ghosts of love past and can't show up for what's in front of them now," counters Emily Zuzik.
Flag carrying next continues in the shape of multi-instrumentalist, song writer and producer, Mint Eastwood; this time for busy fathers everywhere with a DIY work ethic when it comes to music. The Yorkshire Moors-based artiste who labels his musical style as ‘slackertronic’ has featured previously in this column via his singles “Screwed Up” and “Man From Atlantis” and now returns with an ode to Robert Smith and The Cure entitled “Robert Told Me”. Eastwood confesses that making music is a slow process for him. With a full-time job and two children, time is at a premium and he doesn't make it easy by undertaking everything himself from writing, singing and playing right through to mixing, mastering, videos and promotion.
“Robert Told Me” has all the trademarks of Mint Eastwood’s art from his slightly distanced transatlantic drawl with its hint of fragility to his innate feel for melody and self-deprecating lyric sentiments. Quoting The Cure’s song titles, the piece reflects how music soundtracks moments in your life. “I like the idea that Robert is talking directly to me via the lyrics in his songs and they are personal to my experiences” as Eastwood himself puts it. With another single in the pipeline, he is also trying to get a live set together. He might just need a time management course.
Having stepped out under her new alias in January with the delightful EP, Oxygen, Devon-based Third Girl from the Left has now emerged with a new single, “Here Am I”. Her core sound mixes field recordings with elastic, whispery vocals, pulsing synths, small bursts of guitar, skittish percussion and occasionally a vintage zither banjo. The new song continues this blend but, after a modestly gentle introduction over the first minute, decidedly picks up pace and her vocal takes on a renewed edge as the melodies grow more expansive.
Lyrically, “Here Am I” uses words as sounds to underpin the relationship she sees between her life experiences and nature. The theme appears to be change and, for one who is a songwriter of over twenty years, she has emerged with a clear vision and a confidence in her new found sound and identity. She finds inspiration in change and delights in experimenting on this song with guitar tunings and with different instruments and recording effects in her home studio. It translates into an intimate and rewarding listen. What can we expect next from Third Girl From The Left? Let’s ask her: "I have a new single coming out this summer along with a new video which I'm just putting finishing touches to. Without giving too much away; expect dark, edgy rock and intrigue!"
Our Fifty3rd Friday comes to a close with Katherine Priddy and her consummate new single, “Eurydice”, which previews her debut album The Eternal Rocks Beneath, due for release on 15 June. At the age of 25, the Birmingham-based singer-songwriter has built some impressive credentials within the folk world with endorsements from BBC Radio 2’s Folk Show and 6Music’s Tom Robinson while her 2018 debut EP, Wolf, was chosen by Richard Thompson, no less, as his ‘Best Thing I’ve Heard All Year’ in MOJO Magazine. Live support spots for Thompson, The Chieftains and Martin Carthy among others plus festivals appearances followed suit.
One spin of “Eurydice” convinces that all that attention is well-merited. There is a pin-drop quality to the production that places Priddy’s exceptional and profound voice in a hushed, darkened room. The grandeur of the song calls classic Radiohead to mind and it’s no surprise that the singer quotes Radiohead’s “Nude” as an influence on the sound. Lyrically it takes its cue from the tale of Orpheus rescuing Eurydice from the underworld by leading her out without permission to look back; a condition he breaks irrevocably. It’s an intensely visceral song of profound regret with cataclysmic rises and falls that reflect its intent quite brilliantly.