FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: PLAYING CATCH UP
There are some weeks when there are simply too many worthy candidates for this modest weekly column. This has been one of them so I am holding a couple over till next week. The other dynamic to consider is that when I take a break the untended Inbox tends to overfill. So, my apologies go to those who have submitted music of late to whom I haven’t responded. No news is not necessarily bad news and I will endeavour to catch up in the next week or two.
Meanwhile here are some fine recently released tunes that especially caught my attention on our return from Cornwall.
Photo of Alex Hall by Kevin England
I once described South Coast native and latterly neo-Surbitonite Alex Hall as quintessentially English and that he’d be as home playing at a summer seaside pier show as he would be soundtracking an indie disco. His ever-expanding catalogue of self-penned and produced songs touches many bases and demonstrates an ability to flit from the humorous to the dark, from the self-deprecating to the sadly reflective. Going back to the seaside analogy, it is fitting that the affecting video to Alex’s latest single release is set in his old stamping ground of Bournemouth.
“Raining” is a vintage serving of Alex Hall. Harking back to the weird kid days of youth, his lyrics spill out a sense of being out of step with his peers, with the glossy veneer of modern life and stuck in a time warp perhaps of his own making. The ability to be self-effacing yet equally at one with many who yearn to live more freely, less conditioned and have licence to be different is a gift that Alex brings to much of his work. “Raining” is a lovely slice of whimsy; sad and yet heartening, laced with a singalong melody and iced by a tip of the hat to the late Burt Bacharach in the song’s smooth orchestral conclusion. Great work from a rising star on the independent music scene.
From Surbiton we journey further into the county of Surrey where we find Epsom duo Broken Bear who have featured previously in these columns via their EPs, the lockdown ashes of Gonna Let It Burn, and the politically charged The Void. The haunting lead vocals and guitar are courtesy of Laura Callaghan while her band mate Paul Smart works the bass and synths. Drums and songwriting duties are divvied up between them. With a clear fondness for the extended player format, Broken Bear is back with the title track from their new Follow My Leader EP.
“Follow My Leader” has more than a touch of Nirvana about it as Broken Bear channel the signature Seattle sound of the 90s with trashy, riffy guitar and crashing drums reinforced by strong bass lines. Laura’s vocals add an otherworldly dimension to proceedings while the uptempo thrash is nicely juxtaposed by an eerie bridge after a minute or so. True to much of Broken Bear’s earlier work, there is a bleakness to the band’s sense of what is wrong with the world: “The world is dying before our eyes”, “Now is the time of monsters”, “History teaches but has no pupils”. The mantra “Follow my leader, follow my leader” is of course suggesting we do precisely the opposite. Good plan, and may the Bear’s righteous angst continue on towards a better place.
Back up the A3 now to London-based singer-songwriter Joanna Wolfe aka Blue Lupin whose music made a deep impression on me when I heard her singles “Soak” and “Surface of the Sun” last autumn. Those songs together with two more now feature on Blue Lupin’s splendid debut EP, Satellite People, which came out in March. It is a collection that I’m sure will cement her growing reputation as an emerging artiste with the talent to stand out in a crowded marketplace. Her music is measured and delicately enthralling; her voice tantalising and hypnotic and her chord changes beautifully intuitive.
The songs on the EP were all written over a short period of time during the pandemic, utilising remote technology in the recording and production across continents. “Sleep On It” was both the first she penned in the lockdown and the first after a good few years’ songwriting hiatus. In it she tries to process the feeling of confusion over how to handle this new experience; a sense that is perfectly captured how the song develops from its gently sonorous opening through to its simply majestic build. The concluding section is quite cathartic as she uncovers insecurities of not living up to others’ seemingly superhuman ways. With such talent though, she need not worry.
Photo of Hannah Rose Platt by Ester Keate
Now to name we introduced here just a month ago. Bristol-based Liverpool-native Hannah Rose Platt has a third album, Deathbed Confessions, expected in May and last month we sampled the noirish single “Dead Man On The G Train” – a story of murder and deception set in 1930’s New York. The album will feature a string of dark tales which highlight both Hannah’s prowess as a storyteller through song and her great ability to create almost tangible atmospheres as her works unfold. She has now released a further taster from the album, the style of which her previous sample track hardly prepares you for.
“Feeding Time For Monsters” sees Hannah asking “if a house represents the psyche – what would haunt the rooms of our very own haunted houses?” She explores her personal experiences and exorcises some of her own ghosts along the way. In contrast to the country balladeer style of “Dead Man”, Hannah’s imaginative, siren-like vocal here is closer to Kate Bush territory and perfectly suits the mood of the song. The cacophonous guitars that take root soon after the song’s midpoint rachets the atmosphere further, highlighting a disconnection of the kind you experience in nightmares. I can’t wait now to hear the next chapter in Hannah’s unusual and foreboding canon of work.
A quick plug next for our friends and great supporters of independent music, The Happy Somethings, who have joined forces with writer/producer and member of the ace band Skylon, Paul F Cook, to produce something both blissful and charitable. The result of this friendly virtual union is perhaps unsurprisingly called “Something Happy”; two and a half minutes of a big reason to be cheerful no matter what crap you have to deal with. Three splendid mixes are available - Original, Acoustic and, probably my favourite, Kitchen Disco – and you can show your support by purchasing the song via Bandcamp: £1 a track or £2.50 for a bargain all three, or give more if you are able and willing. All proceeds will go to the mental health charity MIND.
We close this week on a sad note as I mark the death of the influential Japanese composer, pianist and producer Ryuichi Sakamoto, from cancer at the age of 71. His passing was announced while we were away and a number of obituaries naturally appeared which will give you far more about his life and work than I can devote here. I came to know and love Ryuichi’s music in the 80s through his work with David Sylvian and the band Japan, though this was but a small part of his wider innovations in the field of electronic music. He scored the soundtrack to the 1983 WW2 film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence in which he also acted alongside David Bowie and Tom Conti. The film’s haunting theme is probably the piece of music with which people of my generation will most associate Ryuichi. It is a piece once heard that will stay with you forever. RIP Ryuichi Sakamoto.