FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: TALL STORIES?
Having devoted last week’s column to a live review, I find there are plenty of new or recent releases stacking up that I would like to bring to your attention. The self-imposed constraint of a simple weekly column means that choices have to be made and I have already had to hold a few more over till next week. That may or may not be a tall story but let’s start off with a couple you won’t want to kick into the long grass.
Continuing to hoist a flag of defiance to the gods of commerciality, those intrepid East Midlanders The Happy Somethings return with a new EP with the disarming title of tall stories long grass, eschewing all icons of capitalism – sorry, that’s capital letters. The self-effacing band comprising Happy, Jolly and Joy, makes its music free to download from Bandcamp but for those who crave a physical product, and wish to pay something, an in-house, made-to-order CD option is available for the new six-track collection. Visually the threesome still prefers to adopt a cloak of anonymity behind its regular doll caricatures, while the new recordings maintain that unmistakable Happy Somethings charm and gift for engaging storytelling.
While the inventive “Doctor Lollipop” also featured on the band’s last EP, Lollipop Licks, it has had a makeover for its latest airing and comes across with renewed vigour from its chiming introductory chords to a chunkier sound. It celebrates a certain Dr Neil March aka Trust The Doc, whose eminence includes a brief stint as a lollipop man in a sleepy South Devon town around the time both Happy and Joy were residents. It is joined by five songs that cover a range of topics from dodgy record deals (“The Dotted Line”) to the pitfalls of “Personal Politics”, to the duplicity of TV stars who plundered the innocence of childhood (“Our TV Times”) and the hapless end of a local eccentric in “Peggy Luck”.
Tall stories or not, they all resonate with lives as they are lived and accompanied by trademark instrumentation and interweaving harmonies. I particularly love the gentle final track, “A Beautiful Friendship”, whose tongue-in-cheek lyrics about the pitfalls of attraction are beautifully voiced.
From one – or two if we count Neil – great supporter of grassroots music to another. Like Neil March Marina Florance is a moderator for Fresh on the Net and having sat in the chair as a guest mod recently I have an inkling of the dedication required to listen to up to 200 new tracks most weeks, maintain a fresh, open mind and be a genuine enthusiast for new independent music. Originally hailing from North West London and now settled in Norfolk, Marina is an equally inspired singer-songwriter whose music draws from folk, country and Americana influences. She is a fine, emotive singer who was given her first guitar aged just 13 yet only took up live performing much later in life.
Her latest digital single, “Waves”, came out at the end of January and is one of those songs that strikes you as simply serene on a first listen and reveals its inner depths on repeated plays. The interplay between two guitars, violin and cello is restrained and eloquent, just enough to complement Marina’s beautifully pitched, heartfelt vocal. She describes the song as “a culmination of a year which had both extreme lows and extreme highs” leaving the listener to interpret the nuances. For me, it speaks of great sorrow yet has a clear sense of redemption evidenced in the final lines: ‘held fast in an ocean of your love / on fair winds to firmer ground.’ The sea is a commonly used metaphor in song and poetry but I’ve seldom heard a more graceful exposition than that employed by Marina Florance here.
Brighton-based three-piece, Bledig, create complex soundscapes, fusing elements of jazz, post rock, progressive rock and 90’s trip hop and highlighted by crystalline vocals. The trio of keyboardist Richard Brincklow, vocalist Hannah Boulton and drummer James Purvis emerged with an EP, Bruise, in early 2019 and over the past two years of pandemic has been carefully working towards a full album release, Universe Arrangements, scheduled for later in the year. According to the band, the record will deal with ‘themes of patriarchal disillusionment, loss of faith, grief and submitting to the universal journey.’ So, music very much for the mind and the soul.
A misericorde was a weapon dating from the Middle Ages; a long, pointed knife used to deliver a death stroke to put someone out of their misery. Released last Friday as a single, Bledig's “Misericorde”, sticks the knife in metaphorically. Lyrically it is as topical as they come, calling out those who set themselves above the rules they impose on others. Its original inspiration though was the visit of Dominic Cummings to Barnard Castle but of course the recent Partygate revelations have thrown such matters into a new and highly amplified focus. It is a riveting piece of work with Hannah voicing her own stabbed lyrics in a vision of fractured disillusionment over a twisting soundtrack of piano, synths and crisp drums that reaches a suitably cacophonous conclusion.
Staying in Brighton, idiosyncratic art-pop rockers, Slant, are no strangers to this column following enthusiastically received outings for previous singles, “La Danse” and “Eat The Moon”. Ahead of a debut EP titled My Friends Are All Machines which is slated for 18 March, the five-piece has now enticed us with a further imaginative offering. There are theatrics aplenty in Slant’s music along with shades of the likes of US icons The B52s. Self-described as five heretics on an unrelenting quest to escape the mundane, you are already tempted to reply ‘job done.’
The new single, “75" TV Screen”, takes a pop at rampant consumerism with a novel twist. “My friends are all machines / They live within my dreams” the song begins, setting up the notion that we are all so besotted with the latest technology and glued to all kinds of screens, the next time we look up our only friends left will be machines. Alongside the satire, the song features some surprising harmonies and a full blown acapella coda played out for real dramatic effect. The vocal contrasts between twin vocalists Katy Smith and Frankie Stanley work particularly well over clean cut instrumentation that displays a fine sense of dynamics throughout.
Heading west, here is another act that will be familiar to those who tuned into my coverage of her 2021 singles “Silver Screen” and “Scotty”. The Bristol-based Welsh songstress Aderyn has had an exciting start to 2022 with a trip to LA to co-write and record some new material. Back home she brought out a new single on Valentine’s Day, “Yearning”, which she describes as ‘a queer grunge ballad for fans of Mazzy Star and Soccer Mommy.’ Purchasers on Bandcamp can receive a handmade Valentine’s card. OK, it may now be after the event but you can still give love to an impressive independent artiste and get some appreciation back; a collector’s item too!
“Yearning” shows a new vulnerability to Aderyn’s music. Its tender confessional tones are nicely balanced by stripped back accompaniment with electric guitar and drums employed sparingly to heighten emotions. Identifying as bisexual, Aderyn is honest and open about her tangled emotions around a girl crush, struggling to find the right words because there aren’t any. She captures the real sense of pining for someone now unattainable; feelings for a ‘first love’ that many will relate to from adolescence onwards regardless of gender or sexuality. Vocally she nails it with a blend of bravery and exposure, sidestepping any sense of closure.
Our final call this week is to Essex. Following a run of stellar singles last year, Southend-on-Sea four-piece The Trusted can always be relied upon for a great tune, sung with attack and played with passion. Mirroring bands like Doves and The 1975, the four friends got together at secondary school, with “a mutual appreciation of a strong melody and atmospheric, edgy pop.” The Trusted’s latest offering titled “Eli” is a restrained and thoughtful study about losing your mind to temptations and desires, pitching a fictionalised prophet as a route to salvation against self-therapy, depicted as gravity. Soaring guitar and synths add dynamics to a polished indie rock opus, with frontman Tom Cunningham in command on the song’s tricky high notes.