Derv’s Voyage of Discovery – Weekly Newsletter (Vol 1)

Because there aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the week or fingers on hands, one can’t always get to hear never mind review every new track or album. There are a myriad new artists out there waiting for us to cosy up to them, but alas, cometh the hour does not necessarily mean cometh the music blogger. So, in an attempt to keep us all abreast of what’s dropping/trending/gonna be huge – from new releases to happening movers and shakers, we’re gonna bring you on a weekly voyage of discovery. No more excuses … no urgh, longreads. Just snippets of news with links to tracks framed by utd press photos of your nearest and dearest, or soon to be musical in-laws.

art by Scott Cleary / hmni.me

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE ER,

Social media nearly ate itself alive when the new dancefloor filler from Paramore burst through magenta skies. New single Hard Times is fun music made by a trio of colourful personalities that look like they’re up for more than a bit of craic. Vibrant, spilling over with energy, it’s an upbeat, uptempo jingo coloured by sunny Summery Windies ‘fluences. Shiny rays of marimba add Carribbean textures to this disco energiser bursting with zippy riffs and peppered with congas, distorted vocals and random dumps of synth. Hayley Williams delightfully infectious soft around the edges vocal, packs a punch. Sod the moany music media begrudgers. This is party-time Paramore at their best. New album After Laughter out 12th May. DerVerdict – Mouthwatering! Parteeeee like it’s …

In a similar act of random musical madness Norwegian wunderkinds Pom Poko have released new single Jazz Baby.

A classic case of ‘how many tempo//stylistic changes can you fit in any one song’ meets ‘how long can any vocalist hold a note without drawing breath’. This is the kind of expert, ingenious craziness which is fast hurtling these four uber talented youngsters towards major success. Only a few months since their inception, they’ve already bagged serious showtime at some of Europe’s biggest festivals where they had media dribbling on themselves over their performances. DerVerdict – Worth the money for the artwork alone. Good long-term investment.

Photo Stian Anderson

A band who once travelled the gnarly roads of staggeringly rich and darkly evocative soundscapes, Norwegian five-piece Highasakite seem to have lost their experimental, indie-sense of self as they continue their metamorphosis into colourless purveyors of vanilla, electro-pop, music for the mainstream masses. The twilit quirkiness, the obscure and thought-provoking lyrics twinned with sense-stirring melodies and sensuous undertones have all but disappeared from a band that seems to have rebranded itself as Ingrid Havik +4. Their latest single, the Stargate produced 5 Million Miles, lies somewhere between a poor Rihanna rip-off and something Beyoncé might have hopped out as a B-side c.ten years ago. It sounds dated, flat, and lacking in any kind of ingenuity. DervVerdict – Keep your money in your pocket.

RAPID ROUND-UP

Twitter is a-glow and agog this morning with news that ’80s popstrels and children of Venus, Bananarama have reunited in their original line up – Keren, Siobhan and Sara – and are taking themselves off on tour across the UK in November/December.  I heard a rumour they might be throwing in a few Irish dates! Stay tuned!!  Speaking of terra Irlanda, up and coming Dublin artist SOULÉ has dropped a beaut of a new single.  Troublemaker is a kick-ass hip hop ‘je t’accuse’ with delicious Caribbean vibes that throws shade in spades at the singer’s lying/cheating no-mark of a fella.

Speaking of no marks, Don’t Kill My Vibe chart topper Sigrid has landed another smash with Plot Twist, another electro-hip hopper in which an army of beats goes head to head with some feisty synth surges.  Sigrid lets her vocal go on the most glorious journey as it scales the heights of the tracks propulsive crescendo.  Elsewhere in Denmark, indie-boyo Masasolo is having just another Ordinary Day.  Slacker than slack and more laid back than a li-lo, if you want #goodvibes, this is your go-to.

Wrapping up our rapid-round-up in Ireland, Cork man Eoin French aka renowned lyrical poet Talos has just released his debut album and it’s a stunner that has critics eating out of its palm. Wild Alee comprises thirteen wonderfully innovative electro-ambient tracks crafted with diamond cut precision.

And in Dublin, alt-rock four-piece Ivy Nations are luring us into the colourful dystopia of Live By Design.  Unleashing their Benn Veasey directed video for their third scorcher of a single (their sound is so polished and confident we find that hard to believe) they explain  it’s “a story focusing on the ideas of determinism, design, choice & freedom…in a dystopian world that was at once dated and a bit grubby, but at the same time really quite colourful and vibrant in places.”  The Irish rockers are due to play several live dates across the Summer, kicking off at The Mercantile (YouBloom Festival) on June 4th – full details on their FB page.  Meanwhile, plug yourselves into their highly charged firework here.

GOOD NEWS STORY OF THE WEEK

The news is out & boy are we excited… the brilliant will be joining at this year’s !

We’re very democratic here on DervSwerve, trying to pack in as many snippets from as many genres or un-genres into our posts as is poss. So, we’re delighted to present this week’s good news story, which comes from the world of jazz.

Darling of BBC Introducing Devon, Izzie Anson has been hand-picked by legendary jazz pianist Jamie Cullum to play at this years Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The youngster, who is still only sweet 17, will play 5 songs (3 own/2 covers), the highlights of which will feature on Jo Whiley’s BBC Radio 2 show Thursday 27th and again on BBC Intro Devon Saturday 29th April.  We’ve included her mesmeric track Gone on our Spotify playlist but you can also check it out here.  Written a few years ago when Izzie never dreamt that anyone else would ever get to hear it, the track was reworked during a recent stint in Nashville.  Exciting times for a young singer songwriter whose career is fast gaining momentum.

VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY PLAYLIST

Check out our companion Spotify playlist – Derv’s Voyage of Discovery 1.  Give us a follow on Spotify and Facebook if you like 🙂

DervSwerve

Discover Ireland #2 : Reap Music From Life

Photography – Myles O Reilly

Welcome to the second in our new Discover Ireland series featuring the best contemporary music from both emerging and established stars of the Irish scene. In our inaugural instalment – Irish Music Under The Microscope – we ventured on a ten-track journey that took us from the folk-pop world of Hudson Taylor through the country-roads of Catherine Mc Grath to the Balbriggan ‘good life’ imagined by R&B diva-in-waiting Soulé.

This week, we deep dive into the world of yet another ten Irish artists whose music crosses every social, stylistic and musical walk of life, to give you a multi-flavoured megamix by more of the best of our indigenous talent.  As always, you’ll find a Discover Ireland #2 Spotify playlist at the end of our piece. In addition, over on Spotify, you’ll find a new all-inclusive Discover Ireland Top 20 to which we’ll keep adding new tracks week on week.

“bain ceol as an saol

Uncredited Press Photo

Who? Áine Cahill

The 22-year old Castletara native who has already stormed every TAM rated radio show across the UK&I not to mention wowing throngs of festival goers from Body & Soul, to EP, to the mother of all fests, Glasto. Fresh from a stint at Cruinniú na Cásca where she played alongside The Academic, Áine Cahill will embark on a nationwide tour on 20th April kicking off in Dublin’s Sugar Club – full details here. Her itinerary also sees her take in some UK festival dates including Glastonbury‘all hail!’.

With a sound that occupies the liminal space between baroque pop and jazz, the young Cavan woman has been likened to both Lana del Rey and Adele, although personally I can hear more of the former and less of the latter in the way her vocal confidently mines rich and pitch-dark, mysterious underground caverns. There’s a touch of James Bond suaveness to her latest single Plastic, redolent of Planets by The Clear.

A sassy yet classy two-fingers to unfeeling no-marks, it’s a slickly produced affair with as much style as it has substance.  Cahill effortlessly walks her smouldering vocal up and down the breadth of its range, while in the background guitars growl, sinister basslines lurk, strings sweep theatrically and there’s a profusion of jazz cum r&b style percussion that gives Plastic an infectious, palpitating heartbeat.

The youngster has just brought out an accompanying video which you can watch here.  With a chutzpah similar to peers like Bryde and PJ Harvey and a talent mature beyond her years, Áine Cahill is more blazing comet than rising star.  One to watch with binoculars …

Who? Otherkin

Love child of a fast and furious fling between Cockney Rebels The Clash and NYC’s brashest The Strokes, Otherkin is a Dublin based four-piece putting grit into grunge and punk into pop.

Producing adrenaline-charged rocket-fuel trading as ‘garage rock’ that refuses to go gently into any good night, Otherkin have rapidly become one of the success stories of the current Irish music scene.  Two EPs in, and their searing sound has gained them a fanbase which has grown exponentially since their 2014 inception.

While their style is unfussy and vibe beyond energetic, their songs swing off more hooks than Tarzan doing the rounds of a concrete jungle.  Their sound is ‘loud’ but without the ear-scraping screech-factor to which many of their peers fall foul. Ensuring a line in melodic pop sensibilities remains firmly embedded in their rad-leaning brand, has kept Otherkin within reach of commercial whilst at the same time keeping a respectful distance from mainstream pop.

Ahead of the release of their debut album, due out later this year on the Rubyworks label, the guys recently dropped the lead track Bad Advice.  The musical equivalent of stormtroopers crashing your local open mic, its a compelling sonic energiser replete with the strident guitars, punchy beats and confident vocals on which Otherkin have built their indisputable rep.  One, which will see them cosy up to Axl & co when the Not In This Lifetime Tour hits Slane on 27th May 2017 (see here for tickets).  Something tells me Ax will have his work cut out for him keeping up with these frenergetic rockers.

Who? Lisa Hannigan

Lisa Hannigan is an icon of modern Irish indie-folk-pop – period.

A gifted multi-instrumentalist Hannigan has long been at the forefront of that wave of musicians who successfully managed to transform the genre of folk-pop, once seen as pop’s poor relation, into an accepted art form within modern musical society.

In addition to a plethora of film work, the multi-award winning Irish woman has released three highly acclaimed studio albums – Seesaw (2008), Passenger (2011) and most recently At Swim (2016) for which she was Choice Music Prize nominated.

The title, which is drawn from the watery metaphors that flow through At Swim’s lyrics, is similarly suggestive of the fluid sound of the album itself, which in many ways make it as intangible as it is transparent.  Described by The Telegraph as an album “to drown in”, At Swim is a truly emotionally immersive recording which serves to highlight not just Lisa Hannigan’s exceptional songwriting skills.  It also serves as a testament to her ability to craft intimate and feather-light music which she then gently offers up with the most delicately emotive of deliveries.

Lisa Hannigan is currently on an extended World tour with our next featured artist – Saint Sister. Full details of all remaining dates//tickets – here. She plays the Royal Hospital Kilmainham on 5th June.

Who? Saint Sister

Saint Sister, was formed in 2014 by Trinity alumni Morgan MacIntyre and Gemma Doherty. 

Drawing inspiration from traditional Irish and folk music on the one hand and electro-pop on the other, the duo have concocted their own unique brand of ‘atmosfolk‘.  Blending wistful, subtle synths with electro-acoustic harp, the pair have managed to take the best of both traditional and modern worlds, resulting in a finely balanced musical menagerie at the heart of which lies their perfectly synchronised, visceral vocal commix.

Clocked by media within a blink of their formation, Saint Sister have opened for Arcade Fire, been playlisted by the Beeb and RTE, and toured extensively selling out venues from Ireland to the Finland Station (that might be a bit of an exagg but you get the gist).  They’re currently high-bindering around Europe with the afore-mentioned Lisa Hannigan ahead of a stint around the UK&I.

With its minimally arranged, unfussy perfection, their sensational Madrid EP blew the socks off reviewers and music fans alike.  Most recently, the duo have released Double A Tin Man / Corpses (link here).  A finely textured weave of the warmest threads of electronica adorned with delicate gauzy folk, this is music with which one makes an immediate, subliminal connection.

Saint Sister take their instrumental finery and add a layer of perfectly chiming vocals to create immaculately delivered and sympathetically arranged songs that only the most gifted lyricists and naturally talented of musicians can aspire to.

Saint Sister play Dublin’s National Concert Hall on 7th June and Latitude (UK) on 15th July. Full details of their tour dates//tickets – here.  Click your heels and set ye off for Blind Date over the rainbow style with their wonderfully original video for Tin Man below.

Who? Imelda May

There’s very little left to say that hasn’t already been said about the ‘transformation’ of the artist fka the Queen of Rockabilly.

Sporting a new look while embracing a bewitching new sound filled with heartfelt soul and punchy blues, Imelda May has returned with a fifth album that has exceeded our wildest expectations by more than a country mile of the English heartland in which she now lives.

Life Love Flesh Blood is a T Bone Burnett produced masterpiece comprising strands of country, jazz, R&B, pop and more. An indefinable triumph which, like May herself, refuses to be boxed in by labels or genres, it has had both reviewers and May’s fans in thrall to its visceral power and raw to-the-bone honesty (mea culpa – you can read my review here). Editors of glossies and TV hosts alike, have been tripping over themselves to book the Dubliner for ‘chats’ (Image Mag, The Late Late Show, The One Show) – if anyone out there didn’t already know who Imelda May was, they must surely know now (mea maxima culpa, read my interview with Imelda here).

With her ten-strong team of musicians, Imelda May is due to hit the ‘circuit’, starting in Derry on 30th May.  The singer will play over 25 dates across the UK including St. David’s Hall in Cardiff and the exquisite London Palladium.  She will play four Irish dates – three sold out shows at the BGE Theatre in May and an extra date at Dublin’s 3 Arena on 22nd December.  The month of June will see Imelda take her new sound to music venues across North America where she will also hook up with the legendary Elvis Costello.  We wish her well.

Check out the new video, just released, for Imelda May’s latest single Should’ve Been You here.

Who? Bad Sea

Alan Farrell and Ciara Thompson aka CMAT, are Bad Sea – a trippy, country ‘fluenced duo who recently supported Australian hitmaker Julia Jacklin when she pitched up at Whelans for a night (and got clamped for her troubles).  They were, in the words of that great musical legend John Peel – ‘fucking amazing’.

With a confidence that belies her 21 years, Ciara has all the poise of June Carter Cash fused with the pop sensibilities of KD Lang whilst paralleling the idiosyncrasies of Lana del Rey.  Comparisons not easily made.  Farrell for his part is an intuitive guitarist with more than an ear for a seductive riff.

On stage, Thompson and Farrell are in complete symmetry with one another; a synchronicity more than apparent in their studio recordings, which sound more like the results of an afternoon of easy going musical indulgence rather than the meticulously rehearsed and precisely crafted soul crusted country-pop gems that they are.  It’s not easy to make such good music seem effortless!

Their latest single Tell Me (What I Mean) is a homage of sorts to love (and Tinder) in which Ciara’s glorious vocals twirl and whirl around and through Farrell’s resplendent throwback guitar playing.

The duo played So Far sounds last month, a live recording of which you can watch here.  They play a sold out Yala event 21st April, return to Whelan’s on 16th May to support Overcoats before hooking up with Rosa Nutty for her EP launch in The Workman’s on June 1st!  BE THERE!

Who? Katie Laffan

Dubliner Katie Laffan is another slice of that batch of Irish newbies taking the media world by storm.

Her new single Tastemaker scored massive acclaim for its journeying in a direction perpendicular to the well worn trend of most chart-poppers.  Dressing itself in the fluorescent PJs of ‘bedroom funk’, its a dynamic melee of funk, jazz and hip hop spliced with some reggae vibes all wrapped up in a layer of glistening disco-pop.

Produced and mastered by studio Yodas, Liam Caffery and John Flynn, it’s as slick a glitter-ball of a production as you’ll hear since the walls of NYC’s Studio 54 reverberated with Nile Rodger’s Chic.  In fact if you told me Rodgers himself was on guitar duties it wouldn’t surprise me.

There is something very carefree and wild about the vibe of this song, which is more sonic fizz-bag than commercial candyfloss.  That’s not to say it isn’t radio and market-friendly – it is in spades, but without the try-too-hard plasticity of the likes of Pixie Lott or triteness of Little Mix.  It’s disco-pop with the sassy abandon of Donna Summer that hints at the best of Roisin ‘Bring it Back’ Murphy (before she slid down the experimental rabbit hole).

Tastemaker showcases Laffan’s coy but street-wise vocal, sparky and unbridled, blurry around the edges, softened by a hint of breathiness.  Musically, this ‘fabulousness’ is a riot of cowbells, funked out bass-lines and highly-strung, tight knit retro 70’s riffs.  More addictive than Haribos, if you don’t fall prey to Ms. Laffan’s bedroom charms, then you’re either tone deaf or dead.

The video, which you can watch below, features the singer’s 82 year old Grandad – go him!

Katie Laffan will support Maverick Sabre in Dublin’s Bowery on 27th April, followed by stints at Bare in the Woods and Grove Festivals – full details here.

Who? New Pope

Galway native David Boland has been performing under the New Pope moniker since 2014. Hugely popular, this immensely talented singer/songwriter has diligently distilled his own home-brew of dream-pop infused folk that while drawing from an indigenous traditional well, owes much in the way to the indie/jangle of mid-90s America.

New Pope has released two excellent and buy-worthy albums, Youth which was released in December 2015 and Love which came out on NYE one year later.

If you put a gun to my head and forced me to make comparisons, I would automatically lean towards Beck.  There’s more than a trace of the American’s sun-kissed Californian ease in the leadránach almost soporific quality of the Irish man’s gently hypnotic vocal.

Somewhat of a confessional songsmith, New Pope wears the varying shapes of his heart on his sleeve – humourous, romantic, nostalgic, observer of life, dreamer.  His song-crafting skills are exceptionally on point – thought and emotion provoking poetic essays on the world with which the Galway native surrounds himself.  Observations on the natural world, the changing face of Irish landscapes, soundscapes and culture, love won and lost, nostalgic odes to youth and its blushing romances.  They’re all in there like pages torn from a collection of diaries.

New Pope’s third album Home, is due out later this year.  An album firmly set in the ‘now’ of his life, it strolls down more folksier byways than its somewhat more ‘wistful’ and nostalgic predecessors.

Renowned for his wonderfully orchestrated and imaginatively arranged and thoughtful compositions, Home should prove at least equal to if not superior to the charming ingenuity of its two older siblings.  If his Instagram is anything to go buy, New Pope is a constant on the Galway live scene. Check in with his FB to stay in the loop.

Who? Motions

Favourites of Tom Robinson’s crew over at Fresh on the Net – see the groovy review their single Back To Where I Begun inspired back last November –  “the beauty of the song is the superb build right from the start with its occasional picking guitar through to its almost anthemic finish”

The trick of producing really good music is when you find a bloody good formula, stick to it like Elastoplast.  That’s what Dublin based duo Motions have done, nailing a slow build to gradual crescendo, culminating in an all out explosive finale full of musical theatrics festooned with fireworks.

Motions was formed in late 2015 by Tom Daly (vox) and Dave Nulty. They describe their sound as ranging “from shimmering soundscapes to anthemic rock”.  Yup, just about sums it up perfectly.  Bold and daring rock-god vocals are at the helm here – waspish, raspy, edgy, you can almost feel the veins bulging in the Daly’s throat.  Strong and confident vocal shots laced with Jameson and a few puffs of Woodbine.  Elsewhere, in the back seat, Nulty’s strident guitars are screaming to be unleashed so that they can drive unfettered through the anthemic storm that lies ahead.

Their latest single, All I’ve Ever Known is another killer track that will leave your nerves jangling.  The song which “centres around the traces left behind after losing someone close to you … is reflective of the chaotic elements we experience in the grief of loss”.  A continuous build of layer upon layer takes the track from soft melodic balladry to epic bombast, with Daly’s gritty vocal, a fine balance of angst and anger, sitting in the eye of the perfect storm of contorted, frenzied guitars underpinned by insistent, driving percussion.

Unfortch, there’s no video, so here’s a shiny new Motions Soundcloud link instead.

Who? Le Galaxie

Le Galaxie are a 21st century band who like Norwegian beatmasters Röyksopp imagine pulse-filled space-age electronica light years ahead of its time.

A four-piece who submerge their collective talents into the dark and mysterious void that is contemporary electronica, they produce pulsating disco swagger filled with an array of electronic textures, a cavalcade of 3D samples and synthtastic lane hopping.  Their latest single Pleasure is just that.

Like an irresistible and experienced seducer, it holds you firmly in its thrill-seeking clutches and mesmerises with its hypnotically propulsive beats.  New age techno rife with carnal desire it’s like les liaison dangereuse for the dancefloor. The track features the sensual vocals of Flight Like Apes’ front woman May Kay, whose dreamy, languorous delivery is seduction personified.

A powerfully compelling dance track with a more than ‘colourful’ personality and an addictive groove, Pleasure is a Le Galaxie masterclass in innovative experimentation. An accomplished production with an inter-galactic sheen.  Pleasure is released today … go get it on!

Le Galaxie are lined up to play several live dates including a Night in the Key of 8 (23rd April) and the Drogheda Arts Festival (29th April) – full line  up of events here.

Well, that’s a wrap. Thank God says you, is the bar still open?  I’m all worded out. Nothing left to say except, here’s your Spotify playlist. Enjoy.

DervSwerve

ARY – THE INTERVIEW (Longread)

ARY Press Photo Ida Bjorvik

Upcoming EDM artist ARY’s first ‘cut and run’ single was an uptempo, beat-driven pop number called Higher which not only propelled her onto the Norwegian scene, it also got her namechecked by a plethora of international music publications. A runaway Spotify success it garnered the twenty-something singer several accolades and awards.

But there was no follow on. Nothing, for a whole year, until finally in August 2016 word came that a new single was imminent. Sure enough, a few weeks later, The Sea a stark, melancholy filled dirge copper-fastened by brooding beats, was announced as the theme to Nobel, NRK TV’s major new blockbuster.

Since then, there has been a flurry of releases both solo and collaborative, and with each new song it has become apparent that the Norwegian was right to halt the conveyor belt and concentrate on playing her in-studio A-game. Three singles were released in as many months including the Supervention2 film soundtrack The End and a recent collaboration with electronic whizzkid Synthomania called Darling (and it is).

Jewel in the crown though is the singer’s #1 chart smash Childhood Dreams the success of which has propelled Ary into another league, as well as the sights of Hollywood glitterati such as Chloe Grace Moretz, who recently posted the track online to her 3.15m followers. Now that’s what I call SEO.

A cheeky little number with a teasing vocal and sashaying bass, flirting against the backdrop of a ticking clock to mark the passage of time from childhood to present day nostalgia.  Oh, if you’re wondering what the distorted, ‘man-made’ vocal effect is in the mix, it’s an uber ingenious sample of Russian witch-chant.  Kudos for originality.

Earlier this year in a very cold and snowy Oslo, I caught up with the ever-vibrant Ary who was more than happy to chat about writing Childhood Dreams, her time in a cocoon and why constant evolution is key to finding her  ‘sound’.

“It can take years to create something great.  I’m still evolving, and I hope my listeners enjoy the various versions of me as my sound is far from finished.”

 

Hey Ary, congratulations on your latest chart topping single Childhood Dreams.  It marks a change in direction from some of your other recent singles. It somehow seems more everyday modern and a lot more youthful.  Did you deliberately go funky in a bid to ramp it up from the more ethereal (The End) and deep ‘n dark (The Sea)?

Absolutely!  Since starting out I’ve worked predominantly with 120bmp as it’s in those more up-beat  electronic landscapes where I feel most at home. The Sea actually started out as a house-ish song but was turned in to a dark ballad by my producer. Although I really like the way it turned out, I’m definitely more comfortable making music I can dance to.

Whilst confident and energetic, the single is also reflective and thoughtful. At its core is the notion of looking back to move forwards and never giving up on your ‘childhood dreams’.  I ask Ary when she wrote the track and if it reflects how she feels now?

I wrote the first draft a year ago when I had just signed with Petroleum (records) and for the first time I had to confront the idea that I might actually be in the music business for the long haul.

I started working with Coucheron (electronic producer), trying to figure out which sound I was reaching for and this was one of the first songs we wrote. It definitely reflects how I felt at a time when I was trying desperately to get some balance between achieving my ambitions and staying on top of my personal life. It represents the hunt for something more, and while I still feel like that sometimes the song doesn’t define my life anymore. What I would say is that Childhood Dreams is the most truthful song I’ve released so far.

Childhood Dream’s shows a more playful side to your personality. Do you think it’s important that people who don’t know you get to see the different sides to you as a person?

Completely. It’s important to me that I grow, evolve and improve along the way. I used to strive to be the best I could before I’d even released any music. Then I shut myself away in a kind of ‘cocoon’. During that cocoon phase I was constantly working and learning, and trying to hone my skills.

Then after a year had gone by, I realised I’d put my life on hold.  I’d been reading a book about tech-start ups in which one of the key pieces of advice was to just get your stuff out there, bugs, mistakes no matter.  Just get it out. Keep working on improving, but do it publicly. You’re creating awareness but at the same time people can see you’re constantly trying to get better.

It can take years to create something great.  I’m still evolving, and I hope my listeners enjoy the various versions of me as my sound is far from finished.

The music is quite a menagerie of myriad styles and moods, a journey through a diverse jungle of sonic curios and noises.  How did you and Coucheron come to decide on the various elements and how they should be arranged?

Hmm. Well it started with the bass and a kick, and then came the opening melody. After we first made a draft of the song, I think we pictured it as a typical pop song. But the more we listened to it and worked on it we saw how simple it needed to be. I really like it because of its simplicity. I don’t really feel like we worked it too much. Sometimes you can overwork music to the point where it loses its magic.

I tell Ary that her voice has improved and matured significantly in the last twelve months.  Her vocal shows a new found strength, particularly on the intro where it is completely exposed.

You sound as if you were in a really good place when you were laying down that vocal. It’s a little bit teasing, a little bit playful and very confident and controlled.  You sound as if you’ve found your vocal niche – kinda urban with bluesy undertones. Are you happy with your vocal development and do you think you’ve found your sweet spot?

Thank you, that’s so kind of you.  In the beginning I just loved to sing. Just hearing my own voice with reverb on it felt overwhelming.

There are so many things you can do to edit vocals these days, and I think that is one of the reasons I like Childhood Dreams so much.  In many ways it’s a song without effects, a song in which my voice sounds honest in the sense that this is genuinely what it sounds like.

I feel like I’ve come quite far vocally in the past two years, and it makes me so happy to keep making progress. I’m not sure if I’ve really discovered my sound yet, and I hope not.  I love being able to constantly evolve and to explore the different aspects of the music I make.

When we met Ary had just started a nationwide tour so naturally the conversation turned towards her live performance.  I asked the singer if having developed a confident vocal along with a more dynamic style had helped with her live performance.

I’m not sure if it helps me.. Being in my studio and messing around with sounds is something so different from being on stage. When I’m on stage I go into a trance. Actually I’m not sure what happens to me, but I lock everything else out. It’s like I black out.  Then suddenly the show’s over and hopefully everything has gone well.

You’ve made a video for the song … is that something you enjoy?

Yes, very much. I love throwing around ideas and being creative visually. The video will be finished soon and I can’t wait to see it. It was a great working with Niels Windtfelt again (director who also made the video for Higher).

The publicity shot for the single is full on vamp with a floral twist. Who came up with the concept?

A photographer I’ve started working with called Ida Bjørvik.  We did my first beauty shoots in a proper studio and it was so much fun! Ida is great to work with, very creative and the flower was her idea. I enjoy making visual stories to the music, and I feel like the cover can convey a different side to the same story.

ARY Press Photo Ida Bjorvik

And finally any plans for Ary to tour UK&I?

Absolutely.  I’m playing Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen in London on 30th May (details https://m.facebook.com/events/398379800547731/ )

Ary’s single Childhood Dreams is available on all digital channels via Petroleum Records.

 

Ane Bjerkan Releases Thoughtful Debut ‘Cherry Blossoms’

Press Photo: Terje Trobe

“We live in a time abounding with opportunity, self-realisation and pressure to perform. It can be hard to navigate, to find a landing site in this insecure and unsettling world. Cherry Blossoms is about the joy you experience when you believe that you’ve found a landing site – even if it is different to what you expected.” – Ane Bjerkan

I’ve become accustomed to hearing Norwegian singer/songwriter Ane Bjerkan’s voice float across the soundscapes of Østfrost, the Trondheim based band which she has fronted for some years.  So, it comes as both an interesting and refreshing change to hear how she has reshaped that rich and textured vocal, adapting it to the new, uncharted landscape of her sole creation. Unsurprisingly, that dreamily melodic and quietly confident voice has acclimatised perfectly to Ane’s pensively evocative music.

Ane Bjerkan decided several months ago to follow her instincts, taking that ever daunting leap of faith which saw her decamp for several weeks to Ocean Sound Recordings on the island of Giske.  There she worked with producers Kenneth Ishak (Beezewax) and Marcus ‘Bror’ Forsgren (Jaga Jazzist, Gold Celeste), on material for her upcoming debut solo album due early Autumn, from which her single Cherry Blossoms is the lead track.

Where the black shadows of the Aksla mountains meet the magical iridescence of the North Sea, Ane’s music is imbued with a sense of propinquity and peaceful serenity seldom heard

Working with a small but diverse group of artisan musicians, Bjerkan was able to dip into an eclectic treasure trove of instruments including cello, saxophone and synths.  Although Ane’s trademark Indian Harmonium takes centre stage, it never dominates the score. Neither does it consume a vocal which cleverly pushed to the fore, hovers effortlessly above the songs slow-tempoed melodic strains.

Ane Bjerkan’s sounds feature folk and pop flavoured with jazz, delivered with lovely, soulful vocals and evocative melodies. A pastoral underpinned by bass-harmonium muddled with cello, Cherry Blossoms is beautifully ornamented with jewel-like prisms of synth that emulate the ticking of a clock.  While the song has incredible depth and a multiplicity of textures it seems at times to be somewhat concealed in half-shadows. The introduction midway through of a gorgeous sax solo adds a golden, illuminating warmth that lifts the track into a more optimistic realm – the joyous arrival at the ‘landing site’.

Cherry Blossoms is a heartfelt, beautiful mix of joyful, introspective and melancholy. Wrap your ears around it soon.

Cherry Blossoms is out now via Pisco Records. Ane will be hosting a release party from 6pm in Mono, Oslo on 22nd April. For further details on both the single and event see Ane’s Facebook page.  DervSwerve

Spotify: http://spoti.fi/2nY2sfd
Itunes: http://apple.co/2ptGLn8
Tidal: https://tidal.com/track/72159200

Discover Narnia – The Magical World of Nordic Music

📷 @bleirvik

Is there anything more magical than an expansive tract of land carpeted with thick pile, powdery snow, imbued with a sense of hush and serenity?  As one soaks up its daz-white emptiness offset by a stunning azure blue sky and high noon sun of the type more associated with the Mediterranean, the purest air seeps into ones lungs, invigorating, healing, giving one an unexpected head-rush of dizzying proportions.  This is mid-Norway in early February and despite its minus three temperatures, it has a clement, almost springlike feel to its late winter weather.

As if by way of silent solidarity, the weather replicates the colourful iridescence and paradoxical cold charm, that like a pair of oversized, ice-tipped wings, so much of the music from this region drapes itself in.

Norwegian music has for many years held me in its thrall, with its effortless scaling of Himalayan vocal heights, pristine tonal clarity and sheer unadulterated enthusiasm.  Time and again, it has drawn me to its Narnia-esque snowscapes, lured by its easy charm and communal spirit, each visit proving a little more enticing, each foray drawing me a little deeper into its ‘norsk kultur’.

Enough of the Danubian hyperbolic flow!  A recent trip to Norway brought about the opportunity for several interesting interviews, some of which were, it was agreed, to be published by a rather large online publication.  However and most regrettably, despite having received written agreement prior to the event, said publication has since reneged on its commitment and those long hunched over transcripts have gone unseen.

So, by way of small reparation to those artists who were promised a space in the much broader columns of that blog which shall remain nameless, I have decided to do a three-part Norwegian special to kick off my new Discover series featuring the best of Nordic music.  The two posts will be made up of a sprinkling of those artists who are doubtless feeling very much aggrieved (you’re not on your own!) and a smattering of others to whom my ears are oft’ inclined.  Enjoy, Derv x

WHO? KATRIN FRODER

Bergen born Katrin Frøder who goes by her surname, is one of many artists signed to the Toothfairy label, who are fast becoming ‘a thing’ in their native patch.  Best known for her unmistakable signature vocal that resides up there somewhere alongside the seraphims, Frøder crafts hypnotic electronic-based music saturated in more technological quirks than would challenge the best spark.

Having taken some time out to recalibrate, the Norwegian who is currently beavering away at penning new songs, says a revitalised return to form has inspired new music even stronger and more alive than that of her self-titled debut.

With several lives dates down and appearances at top festivals under her belt, the singer opted out of the chance to play at SXSW, choosing instead to stay closer to home to continue with her songwriting.  She has most recently been releasing collaborations with fellow label mate and renowned electronic producer Carl Louis, best known this side of the North Sea for his work with ARY.

Quirky, with an idiosyncratic style and a penchant for a bit of blue hue, Frøder is an artist who stands out from the crowd while her unorthodox creative style lends itself to weaving both spiralling sonic fascinators and beat-driven crowd pleasers.  Most recent releases see her featuring on Carl Louis’ Easy and this wistful wonder, Come With Me. Expect new solo music later this year.

WHO? LUDVIG MOON

Each time I go to write a review of LM’s music, I have to return to their FB page to count up just how many of them there are in this sprawling indie horde (there are 7).  Ludvig Moon, signed to Norwegian indie label Riot Factory, are a band who I would classify as ‘still maturing’, a group within touching distance of nailing their sound.

Their debut album Kin had all the ingredients for a runaway success but alas, as seems to be the norm with much indigenous Norwegian ‘pop’ music, it didn’t really figure in their music charts scheme of things.  Highly acclaimed and critically well received, it was, is, give or take the odd hiccup, an extremely well produced compendium of thrillers and seducers.

Ludvig Moon aren’t just another indie band – they are the sum of extremely talented instrumental parts, complete with a duet of vocals that are a synchronised match made in harmony heaven.  While they may look a little top heavy on the instrumental side, and are usually found spilling over the side of any industry standard stage, when you strip back to component level the wealth of the individual threads doesn’t just validate it compounds the splendour of the overall weave.

Ludvig Moon say they’re in a happier place and it shows. What’s also evident is an abundance of freshly charged high voltage energy.

Blankets their latest from the forthcoming All Our Friends EP, due out on 26th April,  (there doesn’t appear to be a pre-order so keep your eyes peeled) is a collaboration with The Little Hands of Asphalt and Team Me, possibly the only band to be able to lay claim to having c.99% of Norway’s musician population pass through its line-up since its inception.

There’s a touch of the poppier side of alt-rockers MSP to this track which drifts nicely back to a mid-90s landscape of Britpop when boys could be girls and girls could be whoever the damn hell they wanted to be.  A video montage of ‘home “let’s get shit-faced” movies’ and archive film footage shows humour, personality and too much tongue.  New music due date, 26/4/2017.

WHO? LOVESPEAKE

Ooh, one sip of this seductive sweetness and you’ll be intoxicated for hours.  An anaesthetic for a bad day, heartbreak or general pain in the ass-iness, Novocaine is our new musical drug of choice as produced by the colourpop hit factory that is Lovespeake.

Every picture tells a story, and this track’s artwork alone, should give music fans a good indication as to the optimistic mindset and rainbow of creativity behind this Norwegian ensemble.  Headed up by Alexander ‘Pav’ Pavelich, who I had the pleasure of running into recently at an Einar Stray gig, Lovespeake and their album DNA were one of the runaway musical successes of 2016.  Their precisely conjured cocktails of sun-kissed melodies, Caribbean beats and retro-disco are the product of the most fertile of musical imaginations combined with a rush of vital dynamism.

Lovespeake cosy up to singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Max Frost, who seems to have a lyrical thing for pills of a certain persuasion #Adderall, on their latest piece of colourful wizardry, with the Texan adding a deep south raspy drawl to counter Pav’s spotless polar falsetto. Two things strike you when you first hear this track – Frost’s deliberately spacious vocal and the song’s ’70s disco groove.

This audacious combination produces something to the effect of a mash-up of a slowed down Someday by The Strokes and A Night To Remember, the 1978 smash by the most classy of all funksters Shalamar.

Like the most delicious dessert laced with bourbon, this is toxic saccharin; a moment on the lips, a myriad soporific trips.

WHO? SIGRID

Uncredited

Following the lead of Adele, Aurora and er, A-Rihanna, newcomer Sigrid goes by forename alone.

The baby sister of singer/songwriter Tellef Raabe, she was singing backing vocals to his headliner at the Norwegian Trondheim Calling festival in February 2016. What a difference a year makes!

Despite the fact that her first single Sun, which she released in 2013 at the tender age of 16, was a smash hit, it wasn’t until she signed to Island Records that the wheels began to seriously turn for this youngster.  With the full force of the Island wind-machine behind her, Don’t Kill My Vibe didn’t just land, it torpedoed its way into our musical space.

Frighteningly perfect pop, it’s like an angry feline with an itch and the odd human to scratch. “You think you’re so important to me, don’t you” she swipes at some envious no-mark, her pitch-perfect vocal sung with that confidence only the young can muster, bouncing off echoey drum-claps and negotiating the melody’s high altitudes with the sort of conviction most of her peers will never achieve.

One of the latterday signs that you have ‘arrived’ is when you acquire your own Wikipedia page … Sigrid, but in case we need to reaffirm just how good this girl is, here’s the acoustic version of her global (yes global!) hit, Kill My Vibe. Watch, listen, shiver.

WHO? JENNY HVAL

Writer, musical architect, experimenter, songsmith and latterday Norwegian icon, Jenny Hval is revered the same way in Norway as Bjork is in Iceland.

A protagonist at the fore of the current zeitgeist of female avant-gardists taking the oft maligned genre of art-pop to the masses, she is as lauded for her outspoken social commentary as she is for her creative brilliance.  If music could be an ‘installation’ in the same way art is, Hval’s work would be first in the door of the Tate Modern swiftly followed by a stint in the Astrup Fearnley.

Her last record Blood Bitch was a highly acclaimed concept album influenced by all things hematic. It was rapturously received by critics who universally heaped it critical acclaim.  Cited by every influential publication in their ‘best of’ lists for 2016, it was the overall winner of the annual Phonofile Nordic Music Prize for best Nordic album, the award being presented to Hval during the renowned By:Larm international music festival.

Most recently Hval has been in the news with her bonafide collaboration with Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens, who famously reworked her track Kingsize back in 2015.  Recalling Owen’s “personal affinity for water” Anxi slips and slides its techno persona through the musica obscura that lies between ambient and pop. Pulsing through a myriad metamorphoses, it maintains a mood of dark foreboding as Hval intersperses the electronic narrative with bizarre spoken word vocals – a monologue which moves at a pace that is quirkily out of sync with the pull of Owen’s beat.

The song swoops up out of the darkness into a brighter soundscape at the heart of which is a steady techno pulse, until apropos of nothing, it swerves right back down again, into an otherworldly void. Art that manifests a host of unorthodox ideas, music which reaches far beyond its natural boundaries; that is probably how Hval’s work is best described.

Jenny Hval will perform in Dublin’s NCH on 6th October as part of their Perspectives series. Tickets http://www.nch.ie

Nordic music, Norwegian in particular, has evolved and grown so spectacularly over the past decade that it is now hard to remember a time when it wasn’t part of our natural musical make-up.  If you haven’t previously come across any of the five featured artists hopefully this first chapter in a new Nordic themed series will have sufficiently opened your minds to excavate further down into this magical, musical mine.  If not, please do come back, there’s plenty more coming down the tracks.

As usual, no music series worth its salt would come without a complementary playlist.  Here’s our ‘starter for five’, which we will add to week on week with each new blog-post.

DervSwerve

 

Is Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon The New Rocky Horror?

Not since the walls of every venue in the land echoed with the rousing chorus of ‘Time Warp’ have we witnessed such a frenzied response to an on-stage production, one which many music snobs would deem more ‘70s kitsch than ‘George & Mildred’, the Cinzano ad series and Sweet put together!

Viewed from a distance Charlotte Church’s Pop Dungeon is like Multi-Coloured Swap Shop meets Rainbow for drag queens, but on closer inspection this is an altogether cleverer concept than one might at first realise.  Set against a backdrop of the glam era that manifested itself throughout British popular culture in the ’70s, Church allows her concept to come into being. The catalyst for this ‘kitschella’ seems to have been the singer’s desire to steer her career in the direction of a “be true to thine own (unconventional) self” approach, one which sees the ‘fun-factor’ dial up turned up to the max.

Recently, that close-up pleasure was all mine, when the former ‘Voice of an Angel’ now trading as the Dominatrix of the Dungeon Dimensions (my term, not hers) brought her rainbow hued sparklefest to Dublin.

A sparse and pretty diverse early crowd soon blossomed into a heaving swarm of Church acolytes for what was to become an extravaganza of the weird and wonderful delivered “in the best possible taste” as Cupid Stunt, creation of the late Kenny Everett would say.  In fact, if Everett were still alive I have no doubt he’d be up front centre, if not on-stage, lapping up every delicious second of this glam rock meets vaudeville spectacular.

Pop Dungeon is a vibrant, melting pot of cover songs morphed, reshaped, and segued in the most breathtakingly innovative ways; perfectly synced mash-ups, of disparate songs, which only the keenest of creative minds and sharpest of musical ears could re-imagine. Its set-list is a colourful riot, a neon-bright, eclectic pick ‘n mix of indie, 80s, disco, rap, rock anthems and off the wall oddities, which on paper, does not and should not work. But it does, and bloody wonderfully at that!

On the night, Talking Heads’ Burning Down The House comes hot on the heels of Nelly’s Hot in Herre, while Trousersnake parleys with Thom during a Cry Me/ParAndroid muddle.  The Edwin Starr classic soul banger War is given full turbo treatment while Missy Elliot is treated with all the funked up respect she deserves.  “We’re a democracy here in Pop Dungeon” coos the singer as she passes the baton to her choir of ‘Charlie’s Angel’s who in turn perform lush covers of everything from M.I.A to Rage Against The Machine.

Set highlights include two Beyoncé numbers, an En Vogue cover and two Prince homages, the latter of which is a stunning rendition of Diamonds & Pearls, which Church morphs into a magnificent operatic scale-sweeper as she effortlessly traces the theme tune to E.T. . A performance so magical it renders speechless, an otherwise rambunctious crowd.

The handful of times when Church lets her former opera-star self come to the fore are without doubt some of the most spectacular elements of this multi-dimensional megamix.  At her subtlest, on 10CC’s I’m Not In Love and encore opener Hide & Seek, she is possibly at her most quietly triumphant.

Going to see Pop Dungeon isn’t just like attending any other gig.  This is an high quality, off the radar innovative and beyond-Bolt dynamic carnivale of entertainment, performed by a ten-strong troupe of extremely colourful, enthusiastic and talented artists who by all accounts, have a wonderful chemistry and marvellous rapport.

And, might I also point out, that Pop Dungeon are possibly the friendliest on-stage artists I have ever come across – their constantly smiling, happy interaction with the crowd was something I have never previously witnessed! Kudos!

Pop Dungeon is leading the ‘karaoke’ zeitgeist with Church turning the crime f.k.a ‘cover versions’ into a professional ‘coverfest’ that has the potential to become the next big thing. An unorthodox creation that Charlotte Church has taken and made her own, it is a project with which she has undeniably proven herself as innovator, arranger and producer.  It is not beyond this audacious Welsh woman to up the ante, and upscale to a full bells and whistles ‘grand production’, a Cirque du Soleil of the music world, brimful of fascinating wonders and wildly creative goings on.

In many ways, with its kitsch glamour and innovative wackiness, Pop Dungeon is the Rocky Horror Show of the 21st century. Like its cult musical predecessor, it has all the outré sensibilities, off-the-wall ingenuity and addictive magnetism required to gain a global cult following.

An all-out camp creative triumph, a critical and one would hope commercial success, Pop Dungeon has put Charlotte Church back to the fore of modern pop-culture where she belongs. All hail Queen “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, fucking Church”.

Pop Dungeon tours until 12 May – check here for details.

DervSwerve

Same Room Different Sounds

Most artists embark on lengthy promotional tour-cycles not just because the desire for live performance forms the backbone of their DNA. They endure them because the seemingly endless sprawl of digital vampirism continues to suck their financial lifeblood dry, thereby making extensive tours a monetary necessity.

It is a universally acknowledged fact that repetition leads to boredom, so that even the most innovative and forward thinking of venue tourists must at times struggle to reinvent the setlist wheel and rejig songs without falling too foul of ‘populism’.

In fact, most artists will tell you that from the moment they finish playing the first sketch of a song, it has already lost its inherent spark, a part of its soul has already died. So, finding an inspired way of cutting out the pattern whilst reinterpreting the layout, must provide for more than its fair share of artistic challenges and in-team brainstorming.

As an acknowledgement of those who constantly strive to push through creative barriers without fear of audience repercussion, Domino Records has instigated a series of ‘warts and all’ live studio recordings entitled Documents. The aim is to showcase raw live performances more or less as they are captured, with as few touch ups from the console as possible.

American artist Julia Holter was first to step up to the plate, and the output from her ‘organic session’ is In The Same Room, a whistlestop live-take through a tracklist of songs largely from her albums: Loud City Song (2013) and Have You In My Wilderness (2015). Holter’s in-session band comprises her touring outfit of Corey Fogel (drums), Dina Maccabee (viola) and Devin Hoff (bass), musicians with whom she has formed an intuitive bond and idiosyncratic musical groove.

Theirs is a relationship in its prime, which anyone who has seen this quartet play live will attest to. So, it is not surprising to find their interaction with their material a contradiction in terms as they marry orthodox with unorthodox, in an attempt to stay true to the original outline whilst subverting the body with more colourful and radical reinterpretations.

In the same way that the album allows the band to excavate old arrangements, In The Same Room also gives Holter the opportunity to deep dive her material for new meaning and ultimately, to give it new expression. Although subtle and very spacious, this album has been infused with a gorgeous energy and inviting dynamism that is distinct from Holter’s studio albums, thereby making In the Same Room as vital an addition to Holter’s discography as any of her other recordings.

The live interpretations of the ‘old’ songs featured on In The Same Room are in their own right as engaging and captivating as the original studio recordings. In fact, it is not inconceivable that even some of the most hardcore of Holter fans may just prefer these slightly blemished, organic renditions with their unedited sounds and almost tangible soul. If anything, these slightly imperfect performances showcase her unerring ability to inhabit a song.

Horns Surrounding Me, a riot of viola and cymbals, crafts a heart of darkness at the centre of which is calm rather than the nail-biting anxiety evoked by its predecessor. Lucette Stranded On The Island, a glory to behold live, is a song about abandonment and being left to die. Rife with helplessness, it blindly meanders into a bedlamatic mid-section but is masterfully pulled back from the brink before completely spiralling out of control.

A perfect showcase of the fertility of Holter’s boundless imagination, this is perhaps one of the most perfectly choreographed tracks on the album. Pushed to the fore, Holter’s vocal clear and exposed. With nothing behind which to hide, it personifies the final disenchantment of the hopeless romantic.

The rendition of Silhouette is a study in understatement and of all the tracks on the album the one which comes closest to the quartet’s actual live on-stage performance. It’s certainly her most compelling vocal, particularly when the track moves into its frenzied outro, replete with damning piano sequences and Holter throwing caution to the wind, filling the billowing instrumental with a chaos of melismas.

In fact, as a result of its unadulterated exposition Julia Holter’s voice shows another side to its personality. She is so close to the mic, one can her voice tremoring, every breath and move, recalling the perfectly imperfect delivery of Mark Hollis on Laughing Stock. Her performance, bordering on freeform, is uninhibited and at times wild, her tone intimate and conversational. It is pure theatre which in many ways is a contradiction of the intensely private and reserved personality we know Holter to be.

Her voice sweeps up and down octaves, her timbre switching from gravelly to airy as exhibited in How Long. On Betsy On The Roof, a track that juxtaposes a plaintive instrumental and wistful harmonies, her stark and sometimes hoarse vocal evokes a gripping, tragic intensity. The result is truly mesmerising.

The resultant whole of its component parts – the dramatic vocal characterisations, the poignant lyrics and the dynamic instrumental interplay – is a richly theatrical and completely compelling album. In essence, this feels less like an album of reworked songs, and more like a revisualisation of an ever shifting storyscape. Yes, one or two of the tracks appear to be wearing the same clothes so to be speak, but in the main this is Holter & co covering upturned ground with innovative spark and renewed vigour.

While In The Same Room stays true to Holter’s idiosyncracies – all the key fundamentals are there – it showcases her astonishing ability to re-imagine, her insatiable desire for innovation and her incredible talent as a live performer.

In The Same Room is out now via Domino Records

*This review was originally published on 7th April, 2017, by The Monitors – http://www.the-monitors.com

Life Love Flesh Blood & The Bones Of Imelda May

Once upon a time, Irish singer/songwriter Imelda May went with her sister to the hairdressers for some trichological TLC and a bit of cheering up. It wasn’t a new do, new me thing; it’s just what we women do. Anon, one boozy afternoon, the Dubliner decided to give make-up artist friend Lisa Mejuto AAA to create a fresh look with a new palette.

One year later and the remarkable reimagining of Imelda May is all everyone still wants to talk about. Grant it, Imelda May looks fantastic, but then again, she always did! Now, can we move on?

As its title would suggest, May’s new and fifth album, ‘Life. Love. Flesh. Blood’ is a musical-diary cataloguing the Irish woman’s most intimate feelings and experiences from a particularly roller-coaster period of her life. It’s all there – the highs, the lows, the thrills, spills and pain – written in stark font, performed with visceral honesty.

A myriad of influences – Roger Miller, Connie Francis, Willie Nelson – float to the surface of an album that flows from blues through bluegrass to gospel and beyond. It was produced by the legendary T Bone Burnett, whose description of May as “full of life … I was inspired by her honesty and generosity, and I continue to be intrigued” could similarly be the tagline for what is an intriguing collection of songs.

Contributors to #LLFB were plucked straight from the top of the singer’s collaborative wishlist. In addition to those made by T Bone himself, there are contributions from Jeff Beck and Jools Holland, both of whom May has previously supported. The extensive troupe of backing musicians, personally handpicked by Burnett, included the renowned triumvirate of guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, David Lynch), bassist Zach Dawes (TLSP) and percussionist Jay Bellerose (Elton John, BB King).  One look at their collective, collaborative history gives a clear indication as to the stylistic direction this album was destined to take.

Photo RTE Late Late Show

Masters of intuitive interpretation T Bone & Co have provided a steady hand in guiding the former rockabilly away from her more high-octane “Boom Boom” roots towards the calmer waters of sensual balladry and impassioned blue-eyed soul.

Not that Imelda May needed much guiding.  Even before she started writing the songs for this album, the singer knew she both wanted and needed a change in direction.  The 50s swing & rockabilly style was beginning to pigeon-hole her talents. The freedom of moving adrift on uncharted waters helped not just to unleash the emotional avalanche within, but to find a new voice.

Album openers Call Me and Black Tears set a mood of captivating intimacy; their music is both beautiful and sensual with Imelda’s May’s vocal dressed to fit.  Call Me is a gentle country ‘prayer’, of such subtlety it echoes masters like Glen Campbell, over which May lays down an exquisitely tender vocal.  

Black Tears is pure Patsy Cline Crazy, in which the strains of Jeff Beck’s slide guitar tease heartache while May’s bewilderingly poignant vocal, is both emotionally shattering and endearing.  Endearing because of Imelda May’s key USP – absolute honesty – an ingredient vital to the integrity of the album.   The song features a truly sublime Beck solo which the virtuoso guitarist cleverly tails with a sassy zip, the signal for May to fire up her vocal dynamo. She duly obliges.

While the record features songs about heartache and breaking up, let us be clear on one point, this is NOT a breakup album.  It does what it says on the tin, as it were. This is a personal reflection in open letter form :-

Life – religion, humanity, failure, shopping, childhood, the future, adult responsibility; Love – (romantic) heartbreak, remorse, pain, optimism, wonder, naivety, as well as family love; Flesh – sins of, sexual chemistry and electricity, “primal pleasure” in the “gutter of love”: and, Blood – one’s own flesh and blood. While each facet of May’s life can and has been treated individually, they are also inextricably linked.

The Dublin native is renowned not just for a vibrant and sunny disposition but for her natural warmth, something she radiates in spades and which is to varying degrees, inherent in every track on the album. It is there in the glow of her voice, between the lines, in the glory of her harmonies.

It is at its most evident on her collaboration with piano legend, Jools Holland whose skillful playing has a remarkable dexterity, perfect mastery of nuance and flawless finish.  When It’s My Time with its impeccable symmetry between organ and piano, is a soulful Gospel number mined in the heartlands of the ‘Deep South’. As it builds into full-on ‘gospel choir’ mode, the breadth and depth of May’s personality shines through, as does the strength of her very genuine religious beliefs.

Life. Love. Flesh. Blood wanders down a lot of country lanes, not least on Sixth Sense which, with its cheeky honky tonky swagger and bluegrass ‘fused guitar riffs is pure Roger Miller soundscape.  Add in an unashamedly seductive ‘come hither I’m yours‘ vocal delivering ‘brazen gal’ lyrics and you’ve got yourself the kind of song Mae West would have gladly made her own.

In a similar vein, How Bad Can A Good Girl Be is as sultry as it is desirous, with May’s vocal drifting into Chrissie Hynde territory while guitarist Ribot’s sound is very Chris Isaak (given their similarity in style it’s no surprise that director David Lynch has collaborated with both).

There are plenty of 50s sensibilities dotted throughout. Both Human with its gorgeous harmonies and Bad Habit, a clappy, toe-tapper that’s as close to vintage Imelda as the album gets, have classic 50s sounds.  Leave Me Lonely flies the flag for mainstream pop ballad while album closer, The Girl I Used To Be with its heartfelt poesie, is an ode to childhood with an Irish trad-folk vibe that recalls The Ferrymen and Damien Dempsey.

Album winner for this reviewer is Levitate, a song which sees May channelling her inner Julie London and that has the most divine, languid calypso beat that would make the perfect backdrop to a romantic rhumba. As they’d say in The Liberties, ‘It’s pure class’.

This album should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Imelda May on TV, performing covers with countless artists from across the musical spectrum. Life. Love. Flesh. Blood was in many ways, an album waiting to happen.  While sub-plots to core themes might have varied, an album based on an honest account of a life lived with passion, brimming with love and filled with optimism was always going to one day find its way from heart to pen to mic.

There’s a line in the doo wop lilt Should’ve Been You that goes, “who takes care of me?” … Something tells me Imelda May is well able to take care of herself, that she already has and she always will.

Life. Love. Flesh. Blood is out now via Decca Records & is available via all Digital Channels & in physical CD/Vinyl formats from good record stores (including Tower Records and Golden Discs Ireland).

NEWS : IRISH YOUTH MUSIC AWARDS CROKE PARK 22ND APRIL

Photo: Ruth Medjber/Owen Humphreys

To mark its 10th anniversary this year, Youth Work Ireland’s Irish Youth Music Awards has announced an all-ages National Day Festival on Saturday 22nd April, 2017.  A change of venue to Croke Park has also been announced together with news of an industry supported Education Hub.

This year’s awards will showcase a day-long series of performances by teenage musicians whom it aims to help “learn new skills within the creative and music industries“.  In addition, participants will not just experience live performance but have immediate and much sought after access to top-industry professionals via its Education Hub.

“Together with young people we learn tools for life, foster dreams, offer hope and realise our greatest expectations”

A programme of masterclasses and workshops will be not just open up the participants to the methodologies and advantages of teamwork and collaboration, it will afford them a unique opportunity to gain invaluable insights into all aspects of the professional music business from performance to song-writing and everything in-between.

A panel made up of a diverse team of industry-related SMEs will also provide valuable insights into the no less important areas of the music business such as production, PR, stage management and photography etc.  Some of the big names lined up to sit on the panel are RTE’s Director of Music Content Alan Swan, Choice Music Awards music publicist Liza Geddes and founder of record label Any Other City, James Byrne.

The winner of the IYMA will be presented on the day with an amazing prize-package including “recording time in a professional recording studio, a recording session in RTE 2FM’s Studio 8 and a full backline provided by Music Maker Dublin”

It is intended that the winner will produce an album of their own original compositions to be released on a physical CD complete with professional cover-art.  The album will have global distribution via all major digital platforms including Spotify and iTunes.

For the first time in its history, the Irish Youth Music Awards will be broadcast live by RTE 2FM.  Tickets for the event, which will be held at Croke Park on Saturday 22nd April, are on sale now via Eventbrite priced €20.  For further details see http://www.iymas.ie .

Irish Youth Music Awards partners/supporters include Dept. of Children & Youth Affairs, RTE 2FM, BIMM Institute Dublin, LinkedIn Learning, IMRO, Music Maker, Gaisce and Youth Action NI.

 

Karmacloud – Longing For An Elusive Equilibrium

If you like your Celtic folk-pop with some Scandi on the side, Irish-Nordic trio Karmacloud should be right up your street or gata depending on which side of the North Sea you’re inhabiting.

The Irish-Swedish-Danish alt-folk trio have just released their latest single ‘The Longing‘, a track which “likens the adventure we experience through love and romance to a hike through the forest: passing in and out of the light and shadows of love and loss, all the while longing for an elusive equilibrium that brings us comfort.”

Be that as it may (most forest hikes I’ve participated in have resulted in my longing for the elusive equilibrium of a big comfy armchair and large G&T), this is a delightful folk ballad not without an abundance of pop sensibilities, delivered with a sincere honesty and gentle warmth.  As you would expect from a song dip-dyed in the well of traditional folk, it comes replete with reps of soft acoustic guitar loops, brightly chiming piano sequences and gorgeous clouds of vocal harmonies.

However, as is often the case, there is more going on underneath the surface than might first seem apparent.  From early on, intermittent sample sounds dart through the vocals like fleeting shadows adding to the afore-mentioned sense of loss and elusiveness.

The song’s airier folk elements are earthed by clever percussion that leans towards a jazz style, while the addition of a dreamy drone of unknown origin- harmonium? accordion? – creates warmth and adds texture as it sketches the most inviting of melodic landscapes.

“Along the way, we learn from our mistakes, and we discover that relationships can be shaped by the secrets we hide and honesty we reveal that make us vulnerable and open to receiving.”

Vocally this is as engaging as any vocal can be, with Danny Forde using all his Irish charm to convey the sincerity of the everyday existentialism behind the song. In fact, having Forde at the helm gives ‘The Longing’ an essence of traditional Irish balladry to which his Scandi comrades have added magical strands of that innovative folk-pop for which they are renowned.
Karmacloud is Linnéa Lundgren, Rumle Langdal and Danny Forde.  ‘The Longing’ heralds the first of three new 2017 releases, the updates on which you can keep track of on the band’s Facebook page. You can listen to The Longing, which is out now via digital channels, here.