FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?
Those familiar with this column may recognise Test Card Girl as the solo project of Manchester singer-songwriter, Catherine Burgis, affectionately known as Caffs. A late convert to songwriting, Caffs confesses that she stumbled into the business cluelessly. On the back of releasing her stellar debut single “Holds Me Down” last summer, however, she became the welcome beneficiary of an Arts Council grant which has helped her edge along the rocky road towards stardom. Today she releases “Don’t Go”,a track she self-produced with Ray Mitchell. Caffs seems to relish the challenges of creating and then managing her own output, tackling some production and mixing training so she can remain largely independent - here she adds “or some would say a control freak!”
“Don’t Go” is the infectious third single from Test Card Girl and, though different from her previous work, retains her signature nuances not least in the sweet harmonies, here sung in part as a round. It sounds like it should have traditional roots, a kind of impossible to pigeonhole hybrid, like a regional folk song which could equally have come from Lancashire or out of Africa (or possibly both!) There is a playful joyfulness to it which is underlined by her brightly interwoven synths while lyrically, rather than a plea to stay, “Don’t Go” is a prompt to someone not to return to a person or situation.
Our next feature, the eruditely named Bloom's Taxonomy hardly faced a should I stay or should I go dilemma when spending the first lockdown holed up in a 5th floor Central London flat, feeling both isolated from the world, and indeed from a relationship which was coming to a simultaneous end. From such times though can spring forth creativity and multi-instrumentalist William Fraser, who trades as Bloom’s Taxonomy, found making an album a true labour of love and a way of keeping sane. The product of that time can now be heard in the form of a first full-length album, Foley Age, from which this immersive piece, “Imaginary Angles”, will give you a flavour.
Fraser explains this track, and indeed the whole album, as “about being trapped in a claustrophobic space, but dreaming of some other distant, fantastic dimension.” That sense of escapism pervades the expanses of “Imaginary Angles” and, allied to some notably sparkling production, elevates it further. Its slow opening build is nicely anticipatory while melodically its progressions hint at those cold war spy film soundtracks of old. A hierarchy of thinking skills, Bloom's Taxonomy is used in Fraser’s day job as a teacher on top of acting as his musical nom de plume. With a flair for truly atmospheric soundscapes, it may not be long until those skills are transferred into cinema soundtracks for the current age.
Photo of Two Day Coma by Harry + Luce
Bristol trio, Two Day Coma, is another act to enjoy a productive time in lockdown, sharing a significant part of 2020 recording between home and a small local studio. The fruits of these endeavours are soon to appear in the shape of an album titled Not Exactly, a follow up to 2019’s A Certain Shade of Blue. Drawing influences from a broad musical palette, the band is not easily labelled and indeed has an originality to its presentation that is difficult to achieve. This latest offering embraces a more stripped-back approach symptomatic of lockdown scenarios. To announce the record, the band has shared the title track and quite a little gem it is.
“Not Exactly” nails the imperfections and conflicting feelings that lead to a relationship ending. Vocalist Tom Harris’ street troubadour style is perfectly attuned to opening his heart and telling it like it is in a natural, stream of consciousness flow. As perfectly relatable as it is personal, this song somehow manages to be both plaintive and comforting. Musically the song’s melodic bass and harmonic textures really complement its telling. The full album is out next Friday and I recommend it wholeheartedly, along with Two Day Coma’s back catalogue.
Photo of Amy Spencer of Charlotte Spiral by Barbora Mrazkova
London dark alt-pop duo Charlotte Spiral has just released “Out Of Here”, taken from its forthcoming EP New Light which is available from 9 April. Charlotte Spiral is a collaboration between vocalist Amy Spencer and pianist Avi Barath who originally met at Goldsmiths, University of London. The pair share a mutual aspiration to write lyrically-driven music built upon organic piano melodies, which is itself a pretty apt description of this particular song. Co-written a while back and a feature of the set list for some time, they confess to being really excited to finally have it out in the world.
As a song title, “Out Of Here” encapsulates how so many will be feeling during this pandemic, locked down and longing for some kind of escape. As lead singer Amy Spencer puts it: “There is something about doing things over and over again in a monotonous way that makes a situation feel worse than it is, and I wanted to portray this throughout the song”. The sonorous piano theme that introduces and then meanders through the song sets a mournful marker counterpointed by choice crescendos that amplify the stark beauty of Amy Spencer’s haunting tones. Lyrically, the stay or go dilemma is finally resolved by putting faith in whatever the future holds.
Aptly based close by the Notts border, The Happy Somethings comprises three multi-instrumentalists and singers known as Happy, Jolly and Joy who have taken a Robin Hood approach to making music, though forgetting the robbing the rich bit. Over the course of 2020, the altruistic trio released a series of four EPs under the aegis of Thinking is Free which it kindly made available as free downloads on Bandcamp.
Earlier this month, all 20 tracks were then consolidated into one similarly titled album. While you can again download it all for free on Bandcamp, or stream on Spotify, you can also now own it on a limited-edition CD sold on a not-for-profit basis through Manchester’s Golden Believers Records. A fiver – or more if you wish – gets you Thinking is Free along with a lovely package of home-made goodies with all profits going to the label to help other bands. Hurry while stocks last!
To celebrate this semi breakout into monetisation, you’ve just listened to track 19, The Fever Kicks In. Like all the band’s songs, Fever is immediately catchy with amusing lyrics this time charting the pitfalls of doubtful romantic attraction in a crowded social setting – who remembers pubs?! The song came about around the time of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and is pretty much a description of the lovelorn scene that unfolded before the Happys and blurred into the night. Mixing music and money has had a tendency to mess things up for them in past guises so partnering with Golden Believers seems to be the perfect workaround.
Photo of HANYA by Jordan Rose
Finally this week, we head south to a familiar repository of musical seedlings, Brighton, where we find HANYA, a dream pop four-piece not adverse to a bout of shoegazing. Named after the Hannya mask traditionally used in Japanese Noh theatre to represent a jealous female demon, HANYA with just the one ‘n’ was originally coined by the band’s songwriter and lead singer, Heather Sheret while exploring the many faces of the female psyche. Later a fully-formed collective emerged; from a two-piece in 2018 to a quartet last year. Building on the promise of previous releases, HANYA announced a new single this week, “Lydia”.
Commenting on the song Heather Sheret explained that “Lydia” started life as a sweet acoustic number but kept getting bigger the more they played it. “I think that’s the nature of things right now: big gestures only” she added. “This past year has involved a lot of contemplation, and so “Lydia” was written about a chance to dwell on our memories and see people, situations and relationships in new light as time progresses.” The notion that perspectives change over time and you begin to shape your own memories ripple through the song’s imaginative yet solidly personal lyrics. There is a certain majesty in the Abbey Road Beatles-like big guitar sound that gives the song real gravitas. An ethereal mystery may be embedded yet Heather Sheret’s vibrant vocals constantly hold sway.