FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: THAT DAY AGAIN
Today being Friday the Thirteenth gives me yet another opportunity to bring that wonderful word that simply rolls off the tongue - paraskevidekatriaphobia - back into play. Right now, I can’t claim to harbour a morbid fear of this date; indeed, after last night’s great result at White Hart Lane I can scarcely contemplate anything gloomy. Well, not until I saw the headline announcing that up to 91,000 civil service jobs are to go; just the thing we need to speed up the issue of passports, driving licences and the like. The irony of course is that a similar number of staff were taken on primarily to deal with Brexit and we know how well that is turning out.
What else this week, I hear you not ask. Well, after two years of dodging it, I’ve had Covid. In my case it felt like having the flu for a few days, generally feeling tired and sleeping a wee bit more than normal; not the preparation I had in mind for this column yet not quite straying into The A-Z of Self-Isolation territory either.
Photo of AURORA by Mathew Parri Thomas
On with this week’s music. I have my son-in-law to thank for our first offering this week. He thought I might like it and I did. Stavanger, Norway native Aurora Aksnes writes songs, sings and records as AURORA. You may know her for her 2015 sleeper hit, “Runaway” or the John Lewis Christmas TV advert that year, for which she sang a cover of Oasis’ "Half the World Away". Her third studio album, The Gods We Can Touch, came out in January and on it you’ll find this perfect little gem, “Exist For Love”.
“Exist For Love” was actually premiered two years earlier and the vocals you hear on it are from the original demo. Something in the innocence of AURORA’s vocal tone captures quite the purest expression of love that I’ve heard in a long time. The shimmering modulations in the song’s melody add to a sense of entrancement that locks you in its embrace while lyrically it is wide-eyed in its discovery, like she is the first to ever stumble upon this thing called love. AURORA is on an extensive US tour right now which then crosses to Europe but sadly isn’t scheduled for the UK. We obviously need more civil servants fast!
Photo of Gemma Ray by Alessandra Leimer
About the only thing missing from AURORA’s perfectly-formed “Exist For Love” is a theremin. Indeed, I can almost hear where one might come in. This random thought reminded me of Gemma Ray who I haven’t heard from in quite a few years though she continues to bring out records, the latest being the oddly titled Psychogeology in 2019. I reviewed her 2012 album, Island Fire, back in the day and loved Gemma’s quirky, individual style and flair for a good melody. A highlight on the album is the theremin-enhanced “Rescue Me” where the everyday collides with the surreal as we witness the songstress “walking round the supermarket/blissed out in a dream.” The theremin’s modulations add otherworldly tones to complement the surrealism.
The theremin is the only musical instrument you don’t physically play but rather create sounds by hand and finger manipulation of electromagnetic fields around two antennae one of which raises or lowers the tone, while the other controls volume. If you are a fan of the theremin I recommend you check out the videos of Carolina Eyck. In fact, I can’t resist this one which Carolina appears to have gift-wrapped specially. Next week… the musical saw makes a comeback.
Continuing the otherworldly theme that we appear to have stumbled into, we head north where we find Edinburgh native, now Lake District-based, solo artiste Celestial North who blends folk and electronica into a heady and haunting brew. With a moniker that could land her a part in a Game of Thrones sequel, Celestial is finalising her debut album due for release in September. She seems to be carving out an uncommon niche for her music along the way.
Celestial’s new single, “When The Gods Dance”, offers a nice foretaste of the full-length record to come. Insistent percussion drives it on while pretty piano figures dance in and out and spectral harmonies add a circular feel to the song. Quietly euphoric, it carries a trance-like quality along in its wake while remaining oddly rooted in folklore norms. I especially like the sense of balance she achieves; matching old and new instrumentation, nature and nurture while stitching it all together with a caressing main vocal. Impressive and moreish.
One of a strong set of Fresh Faves voted for by Fresh On The Net listeners last weekend young South Wales alt-pop songstress Hana Lili seems to be doing a great deal right, judging by the number of Spotify and YouTube plays she is amassing. Last year she scored with a debut EP with the rather mournful title of Flowers Die In The Summer and she now has a new single out, “Burden”. She describes it as a song “about walking around with a big dark cloud looming over your head” and works through worries about opening up about true feelings in case this creates a burden for someone else. The result is a quietly assured, cleanly melodic guitar-driven piece iced with a soft appealing vocal that sits Hana comfortably alongside her transatlantic peers.
So, finally in a week in which I have spotlighted a range of talented female artistes you may remember that I picked out Cyprus-born and currently London-based singer-songwriter TÁLTSIE as one of my three choices for Glastonbury Emerging Talent Competition 2022. I am delighted that the song she entered, “Holding Stones”, has now been released as a single and is accompanied by a stunning video that really does justice to the emotive, immersive power of her art. Rarely have sentiments of overriding love and support despite all been so eloquently voiced.
I STAND WITH UKRAINE