FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: WELL IT DID COME HOME
So, here is a quick postscript to the events of last Sunday down under. First of all, don’t make predictions when there is the risk that the only thing coming home is the plane carrying the team. Secondly congratulations to the victorious Spanish team and indeed to England for getting all the way to a closely run final. Thirdly, spare a thought, not just for the doughty fans waiting to greet the Lionesses at Heathrow and finding themselves bypassed, but for Spanish-British songstress Nadia Sheikh, whose music is championed by this column and who may have wrestled with which shirt to wear. [It won’t have been Mary Earps’ – Ed].
Photo of Squirrel Flower by Alexa Viscius
It has been a couple of years since I last featured Squirrel Flower, the moniker Arlington, Massachusetts native Ella Williams gave herself as a child and under which she now performs. The good news is that a new album, Tomorrow’s Fire, is hovering in the wings and due to land on 13 October. The new record sees the Chicago-based songstress channelling more of an outright indie rock style to work through her thoughtful, often disquieting music. In these worrying days of wildfires, the album title may sound apocalyptic but the songs are more about the challenges in life, its frustrations and endgames and throughout her work the artiste maintains a sense of hope and solace.
To announce the coming LP, Squirrel Flower has released a new single, “Alley Light”, a third person exposé of a down at heel man whose car could break down any time and whose girl just wants to get out of here. The blue-collar storyline is driven by huge, angular guitar chords over which Ella’s voice almost caresses the lines as she teases them out in a soft drawl. Obliquely she describes the song as being about “the man in me, or a man who I love or a man who is a stranger to me.” The noirish tone of the accompanying video suggests it may be all three. Squirrel Flower is touring extensively beginning with US headline dates in October followed by UK/Europe in November, including London’s Pitchfork Music Festival, before picking up again in January back in the USA.
We stay in the US – indeed in Chicago - for a name new to me, Slow Pulp. Like Squirrel Flower the Chicago-via-Madison, Wisconsin four-piece has a new long player in the pipeline. The follow up to the well-received Moveys in 2020, this one is entitled Yard and will be out on 29 September. Slow Pulp was formed by childhood friends guitarist/producer Henry Stoehr, bassist Alex Leeds and drummer Teddy Mathews before local vocalist and guitarist Emily Massey was recruited to the line-up. The band offers a particularly broad sound palette from Americana and balladry to pop punk, evidenced by a clutch of diverse singles leading up to the full album release.
“Broadview” is the latest of these and substantially leans on the americana ticket, with sympathetic instrumentation – pedal steel, banjo and harmonica – worked in to the band set up to decorate a languid, flowing melody. Over this, Emily Massey’s vocal is the star of the show, rising from whispered strokes in the verses to an emotive pitch in the choruses as she contemplates laying her heart open to a new love. “This song is about letting yourself fall in love for the first time in a long time” she explains. “After being hurt in previous relationships I was trying to decide if making the jump was worth it. Turns out it was.” Enough said. Slow Pulp undertake an extensive North American tour in October/November followed by several UK and European dates in December.
A change of pace next as we switch from America to Scotland and specifically Glasgow where, down from the Highlands, we find four lads collectively called The Zebecks. Fronted by lead vocalist and guitarist, the admirably renamed Dan O’Shanter with Hayden Peace on vocals/guitar, Max Robertson on bass guitar and Aiden Smith wielding the sticks, the bandmates all hail from Elgin in the Morayshire area of the Scottish Highlands. Drawn to the music culture of Glasgow, they decided to migrate to the city to pursue their career and three years in have established The Zebecks – a made up name in case you’re wondering - as a mainstay of the Glasgow scene, consistently selling out local venues.
On hearing The Zebecks’ new single, “Killing Time”, the thing that immediately struck me was that you may take the lads out of the Highlands but you can’t take the Highlands out of the lads. From Dan’s broad accent to a hint of the cadence of traditional music, there is a rare authenticity and individuality to the band’s sound. Clearly immensely proud of their roots yet eager to embrace the city culture, The Zebecks take us through first impressions of the gritty Glaswegian streets, the lyrics fast spilling out a storm of vibrant imagery and experiences. Echoes of The Clash can be heard in the adoption of a reggae beat and in the raw, live feel of the song. Beyond any comparisons though is a passion to give voice to the experience of young Scots. You can help them on that road via a purchase of the track on Bandcamp.
As a bonus track, here is “Breakthrough”, the aptly-named studio-produced debut single from The Zebecks which landed in April. Bristling with energetic attack, this song comes across as the work of seasoned indie-rockers and is a great testimony to the pride and promise this young band brings.
We are back across the ocean for our final two acts this week. Firstly, to Canada, where the indie trio of Khalid Yassein (guitar, vocals, keys), Devan Glover (vocals) and Andrew Oliver (lead guitar, synths), aka Wild Rivers, can be found. The Toronto outfit came together in 2015, releasing a self-titled debut long player the following year and following it with a couple of EPs and a second studio album, Sidelines, in February last year. The album reflected on the transitions that come as you navigate your mid-twenties. They began 2023 with the release of this new song, enigmatically titled “Don’t”.
I was led to Wild Rivers via a press release highlighting some UK shows from 29 August to 4 September which form part of a wider European tour, taking in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Denmark. You can check out full details here. “Don’t” is about making the call to walk away when you must choose to settle down or move on in a relationship. It’s a familiar theme yet one that is handled here with the care and sensitivity that is often lacking in this situation. The melody progressions have a Paul Simon feel to them while the vocal interplay and deft instrumental touches are just sublime. Come back soon!
Photo of boygenius by Harrison Whitford
Finally, back to the USA via Kingston upon Thames. I had been eagerly anticipating the visit of boygenius who hit Kingston last night to play two Banquet Records-hosted shows at Pryzm. The kindred spirit supergroup of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus is on my would-most-like-to-see-but-have-sadly-missed list. Sadly, following an unexpected bout of sciatica, I was going nowhere last night. I believe that boygenius played nine of the twelve songs from its 2023 debut album, The Record, in a twelve-song set. Given the strength of the album, choosing one to play out with today is something of a challenge but I keep coming back to “Not Strong Enough” which seems to encapsulate quite how well the strengths of individual songwriting are unified by collective camaraderie.