FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: VISIT RWANDA
I had to double check that the clock hadn’t reverted to April 1st after the Government’s announcement of a £120m ‘trial’ to send cross channel boat migrants 4,000 miles away to Rwanda for ‘processing’. The outsourcers must be gleefully WhatsApp-ing their mates to see if they can get in on the action. Subsequently I spent much of the day trying to avoid the clueless efforts of politicians and idiots on Twitter seeking to justify this policy as potentially life-saving and a means of ending migrant trafficking. It’s a policy ‘more than 12 months in the making’ that the recently appointed Minister for Refugees didn’t know about.
You can quickly unpick any logic to this crazy scheme, not least that it is a bit disrespectful to Rwandans to think that migrants would be so horrified at the prospect of ending up in their country that the demand for small boats would suddenly evaporate and traffickers would have to get jobs in call centres instead. George Orwell, author of the dystopian 1984, had a lot of wonderfully wise words about nationalism, historically accurate and future prophetic; itself an issue that I feel is at the root of virtually all of our world’s serious problems. We could do with some of that wisdom right now and unless we can seek one world solutions rather than nationalistic fixes for everything, nothing is ever going to change for the better.
Rant over, let’s get on with this week’s tunes.
Photo of Michael Baker by Alice Humphreys
I’ve written before that music you come across purely by chance can often make a deep impression. A case in point is London Anglo-French singer songwriter, Michael Baker, who turned up randomly as next to play after I listened to something else on SoundCloud. With two EPs under his belt, his debut album Dust & Bone came out in 2016 after Michael reportedly lived in his van for two and a half years while recording it, working with producer Dan Brown (no, not that Dan Brown). Since then, Michael has released two further LPs, Salt in 2020 and How Come You Sleep the following year, and now has a fourth in the making.
Michael Baker’s new single, “Until The End”, augurs well for the full length record to come. It’s one of those songs where less is more; keyboard and percussion driven and peppered with electronic swirls and flourishes as it builds momentum towards the end. It is topped by a dreamy, leisurely vocal aided by some spectral harmonies. The song has an inner warmth to it, setting aside the disconnects of the past for the comfort of friendship and a sense of togetherness. It is a beautifully understated piece and yet all the more compelling for it.
It is but six months since we encountered Tadworth, Surrey duo Laura Callaghan and Paul Smart aka Broken Bear via their home recorded EP, Gonna Let It Burn. The pair have made a quick return with a follow up EP which is released today. Correspondingly DIY in nature, the four songs that make up The Void rail against the political status quo; song titles “The Void”, “Toxic Positivity”, “Endless Sleep” and “Delusional” suggest a broken world with little by way of respite in sight but maybe the very act of writing and recording these songs in itself is a cathartic process.
Title track, “The Void”, is a short, though not exactly sweet, plea for some kind of release from the band’s perceived hopelessness arising from our political landscape. The guitar riff balances urgency with something more reflective. Vocals and guitar mesh effectively and I particularly like the way the descending guitar notes in the choruses play against Laura’s ascending vocal harmonies. Reverb adds substance and enhances the psychedelic feel that runs through the song and indeed much of the EP, achieving peak output on the final track, “Delusional”. On “The Void”, the build as the song reaches its conclusion gains real intensity only to be left abruptly hanging in the air. Broken Bear can be rightly proud of the controlled passion they bring to ‘bear’ in their music.
Photo of Animalweapon by Alina Patel
In my world Raleigh makes bicycles but it is also the name of the capital city of North Carolina, USA where we find our next act, Patrick Cortes aka Animalweapon purveyor of Synthwave and Bedroom Electronics. Animalweapon has been performing in Raleigh for the past decade including appearing at the city's premiere Hopscotch Music Festival and garnering a 2017 Webby Award for Best Sound Design/Original Music Score for his work on the hit podcast, Undisclosed. He has a new album out today entitled Set Of Constraints, a follow up to his 2019 offering, Tyrannosaurus.
The lead single from the new record, “Deserve”, is accompanied by a video which underlines the sense of loneliness you get from the sonic landscape that the artiste creates. It is also not that rough a guide to the city locations that must be close to Animalweapon’s heart. He explores mental health, isolation and anxieties on the album but balances these with a working-on-things mindset. On this track he asks a series of questions. We don’t know the context but his way of working through things to arrive at the conclusion of “I don't deserve this” accentuates its healing. The soundtrack is beautifully immersive and therapeutic; the latter is a word that could equally be applied to his caressing vocal tones.
I heard our next act, Brighton-based trio CIEL, after music writer and fellow Glastonbury Emerging Talent judge Paul Kerr, aka The Devil Has The Best Tuna selected the band as one of his three choices in Round 1 of this year’s competition. Writing about Ciel’s song entry, “Fine Everything”, Paul summed up its appeal with his usual eloquence: “Angular indie that somehow pulls off the difficult combination of being both edgy and catchy. The regular snaps of staccato-shaped, lacerating guitar elevate this so far from the pack it needs an oxygen mask.”
Drawing its three band members from The Netherlands, Spain and the UK, CIEL blends alt-pop melody with an infusion of grunge rock giving its work a hard edge to its softer underbelly. Fronted by Holland’s Michelle Hindriks on vocals and bass guitar and featuring Jorge Bela Jimenez (guitar, synthesizer) alongside Tim Spencer on drums, CIEL motors in cruise control on “Fine Everything” while throwing in attention-grabbing guitar stabs in the choruses and a strong, overdriven coda with an unexpectedly abrupt ending. Michelle’s vocals have a natural musicality that adds further distinction as she chews over the growing pains of youth.
South London five-piece, moa moa, came to my attention when hearing the band’s single “I Do, Florence” on Fresh On The Net’s Listening Post. The song went on to become a Fresh Fave that week, heralding a debut EP with a similarly intriguing title, Brain Feelings, which then dropped on 1 April.
The band was formed in 2019 by songwriter/producer James Ratcliffe and friends Dan Byrne, Connor James, Sophie Parkes and Matt Taylor, reportedly united by their love of ‘wonky, chonky pop’. Certainly, the band’s sound has an unconventional dynamic to it while the songs on the EP tackle disparate themes from post-pandemic realities to self-love and even unethical mineral mining.
Contrary to a marriage proposal as it could suggest, “I Do, Florence” is James Ratcliffe’s ode to a former girlfriend. You sense he’s not about to walk up the aisle when the opening lines announce “My life slips away from me / I think it's time for a change of scenery”. Nevertheless, real affection remains interwoven in his lyrical sentiments expressed with self-deprecating humour. Musically the twists and turns in the song put me in mind of signature bands from the keyboard riffs of early Genesis to the song structures of 10cc with a hint of contemporary acts like Tame Impala and The Lemon Twigs. It’s a glorious mash-up that suggests that moa moa will be some band to see live.
Coincidentally, Moa Moa was on stage at Peckham Audio last week while I was not far up the road at AMP Studios at the far end of the Old Kent Road for Neil March’s monthly alternative music event, Vanishing Point, which happens on the first Thursday each month. This was a night of electronic sounds from dance music to ambient soundscapes, through sound art to a guitar hero as a full house was entertained with music from Trevas, Helefonix, Daniel James Ross and Dragon Welding.
Check the links above to listen to all four performers.
After the keyboard wizardry of Trevas, the joyful verve of Helefonix and some intriguing sounds from Daniel James Ross, the evening concluded with consummate shredding by guitarist Andy Golding aka Dragon Welding. His opener was worthy of Dave Gilmour and who went on to embrace a wonderful variety of guitar styles. A great evening and so nice that not only was the place full but an appreciative audience stayed for the whole show.
Photos of Trevas, Helefonix and Dragon Welding at Vanishing Point by Kevin England
I STAND WITH UKRAINE