FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: NEW BEGINNINGS
Next Tuesday sees the anniversary of the first UK-wide lockdown, if that is quite the right word as it implies something of a celebration. Initiated by the charity Marie Curie, it will be marked by a national day of reflection on our collective loss; remembering the dead and suffering, supporting the bereaved and hoping for a brighter future. The pandemic has given us all plenty of time to reflect and maybe resolve to change our ways. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that macro solutions don’t work; even mass vaccination needs local organisation and individual accord. Whether a new beginning will really dawn depends on innumerable micro actions by countless individuals.
Over in the USA, the theme of rebeginning was top of mind when New York’s Ingrid Michaelson penned “To Begin Again”, an elevating duet with the former One Direction and now solo superstar, ZAYN. Hallmarked by Ingrid Michaelson’s flair for melody and easily relatable lyrics, the song reflects hard times over the past year and celebrates our shared hope for the future. Like many fine songs, it was written quickly – mostly within 15 minutes of sitting down at the piano – and on the night that Joe Biden won the US election. As the songwriter explained, “There was so much joy in my neighbourhood. Pots and pans being banged out of windows. Horns and whistles. Clapping. Singing! The collective sigh of relief resonated with me in such a way that I had to get it out musically.”
LA-based Australian songwriter Sarah Aarons helped Michaelson finish it, including writing the second verse and duetting on the original demo. Enlisting ZAYN, with his zillion fan base, for the ultimate recording is as much an artistic triumph as a marketing coup. He brings a sweetness of tone and an instinctive falsetto which compliments the ever so subtle underlying rasp to Ingrid Michaelson’s own discretely silky vocal. Already a well-established musical artiste, actress and songwriter for film & TV, Ingrid Michaelson is to write the music and lyrics for the upcoming Broadway adaptation of the best-selling novel, The Notebook.
Perhaps ZAYN will now bring new fans to discover her music. Her back catalogue of eight full-length albums is hugely impressive. Here’s a little taster; a track originally self-released in 2006 on her album, Girls and Boys, “Breakable” is about the most perfect three minutes you are ever likely to spend.
Striking more of an enigmatic note this week is the Berlin-based dark synthpop duo, The Ghost of Helags, who released its excellent debut album: We Came From The Stars on 12 March.
The pairing brings together Swedish producer Alex Ericson with German-born vocalist, Teresa Woischiski. Geography obviously features strongly in the band’s make-up; the name references the Helags mountain range in the north of Sweden, a place of eerie beauty and solitude while much of the album is inspired by travel from the duo’s chilly Berlin centre, taking in Japanese skies to Italian sunsets. The music has a fittingly innate ability to transport the listener with it.
“Chemistry” is a bewitching introduction to the band’s style with a welcoming percussive opening reminiscent of Pet Shop Boys, reverberating propulsive synth chords and a dream-soaked vocal by Woischiski that simply purrs alongside the vintage ’91 Jaguar XJ from the accompanying video. The cinematic feel to the duo’s work is very much in tune with the video’s journey from a twilight Berlin to the wild Baltic Sea coast. There’s a sense of escapism that could mirror these lockdown times but an ambivalent rather than new beginning implied in lines like: ‘It’s the way you touch my heart / Everything becomes clearer in the dark.”
Back now to home territory and a new name to me; one who has bravely overcome the problems faced in her young life so far and carved out a new beginning for herself. Afreine is a soulful young singer-songwriter who has used music as a spur to better things. She moved from East London to Northampton when just 4 years old to escape from domestic violence, later joining a religious organisation, traveling the UK and Europe in her teenage years singing gospel music. She became a
mother at 20, dealing with post-natal depression while gaining a degree in Drama and writing songs. Her debut single “Clare St.” is a particularly impressive introduction to her music and is dedicated to fellow survivors of domestic abuse.
The song came about when she was struggling creatively and developing it with local producer Jay from Ginger Snaps became therapeutic for her as her words flowed naturally and sensitively. Vocally she employs a soft timbre that rises in strength as the emotions are stirred, yet always remains controlled and nurtured. Afreine’s real name is shared with another UK rising soul star, Celeste, while her stage name comes from a story she and a friend of mine wrote as youngsters; a pleasing reminder of happy times. We can look forward next to more songs born of her life experiences which will show off different aspects of her songcraft.
Our final call is to Glasgow, home of indie pop five-piece Wojtek the Bear who first came together in early 2016 and released an album in 2018 with the self-deprecating title of A Talent for Being Unreasonable. A series of singles came out the following year after which the band was all quiet on the recording front until “Ferme La Bouche” arrived last month to trail a summer second album. Picked as a Fresh on the Net Fresh Fave this week, the track is a bright and bouncy sub three-minuter, lit by upbeat guitar, solid drum beats and brass flourishes which sonically belie its darker subject matter.
“Ferme La Bouche” is about being in a toxic relationship, whether that’s physical, verbal or with someone simply not right for you. The first instinct is often to look for faults within yourself, rather than in the other party. It's good to hear a ripe Scots accent as lead singer Tam Killean plants the opening line on us: ‘They say that everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face.’ The metaphorical punch here is the act of faith you start a relationship with. The song lyrics are pretty economical after that. Well, if you can say it in a few lines then it’s fair game to shut your mouth then.
The band’s new album Heaven by the Back Door is to be released on 16 July but if you like what you’ve heard so far you can re-order it HERE.