Antler’s ‘BonBons’ Is A Delectable Pop Confection

New Promo

When pop is done well, it can be highly infectious, but when its production is exceptionally well executed, it becomes potently addictive.  Such is the case with ‘BonBons’, the debut album from Norwegian trio Antler, just released through independent Trondheim label, NO FOREVERS.  

Mastered by Jørgen Træen, and mixed and co-produced (*in conjunction with vocalist Natali Garner*) by Øra/Greener‘s Karl Klaseie, this is an album with more slick than a Brylcreemed Teddy at a Slow Shuffle spectacular.  With ‘BonBons’, Klaseie & Garner have taken eight tantalising electro-pop tunes and expertly moulded them into highly polished euphonious sounds.  The Trondheim man’s midas touch when it comes to well recorded productions, intuitively engineered with finesse, is what has made him Norway’s indigenous go-to-sound- guy.  Having worked with several other NO FOREVERS acts, including Kari Harnshaug and Østfrost, it comes as no surprise to find that he was the mixer of choice for emerging electronic act, Antler.

Fronted by silken voiced, Natali Garner, Antler keep it clean with their instrumental hinging solely on synths and percussion. Johan Lindvall (Synth) and Axel Skalstad (Drums) make up this newly formed three-piece, who came together when they met in the jazz halls of Norway’s renowned music academy.  Having started as an acoustic outfit, the trio started mixing it up by adding in experimental synthesiser sounds and finding that it gave their music greater scope and added depth and texture, quickly moved into the realms of electro-minimal pop.  Speaking of the continuous evolution of their sound, Garner explains:

“Our music is very influenced by our background in minimalistic improv. Since there’s just the three of us, we work with every element, keeping it simple yet interesting, we hope! Instead of building everything up and drowning everyone in loads of sound and beats, we want to let every element stand strong by itself  but yet be super groovy and intense at the same time. When we were in the recording studio we started producing the songs a lot more, so the sound has grown and become more dense. But we still try to let the music talk for itself and in the studio also added simple, but strong elements.

These days we find it really hard to define our musical style. It’s alternative synth pop with a dash of art pop. Sometimes thing can’t be easily sorted into boxes, so  the best thing is just to let people hear, and define it, for themselves! Words and explanations often come in the way given that people often interpret them differently.”

‘BonBons’ comprises eight tracks including the three Antler singles, ‘Animal’, ‘The Dip, and self-titled, ‘Antler’.  Throughout, intricate layers of electronica create an intense icy weave around Garner’s delectable vocal, while Skalstad’s dynamic and jazz infused percussive techniques take Antler’s sound beyond everyday cold electronica.

With a voice that can scale the heights of Kate Bush, Garner’s come hither delivery has all the delicate breathiness of Haley Gibby  draped in the allure of Nadia Ali.  What is most unique about her style is the fact that it is unforced and unpretentious – more ingenue than agent provocateur, with a timbre that is naturally predisposed towards the evocatively suggestive.  Nowhere is this more evident than on the track ‘Born’, one of Antler’s strongest compositions, on which Garner gives an utterly spellbinding performance. Conversely, on ‘The Dip’, we are treated to a captivating vocal of such purity it sparkles brilliantly against the laboured monotony of repetitious synth chords and fervid choppy percussion.

Instrumentally, tracks like ‘Born’ benefit from Lindvall’s cleverly pared back spacious chords laced hither and thither with intricate criss-crosses of electronic noises that have been set against Skalstad’s impressively tenuous percussion. Lyrically and electronically, their most interesting composition is ‘Nude’, on which Lindvall showcase’s his synthtastic wares.  Opening with shards of dry electronic flares and a melee of random noises, ‘Nude’ sidesteps into a lush musical oasis during which Garner and Skalstad sync with understated perfection, before returning to its original rawness, eventually tailing out with sensual deliciousness.  The song focusses on our obsession with physical perfection and warped view of ourselves in comparison with the assumed perfection of artificially enhanced, media beauties.

You’re the spitting image of pure beauty, your flaws are right, my flaws are wrong … I’m not beauty just because it’s me”  

album Art

Self-titled album opener ‘Antler’, exemplifies everything that is unique and special about this young band. The deftness of Lindvall’s adept playing of what sounds like a synth spaghetti junction, is genuinely impressive, while Skalstad’s understated, slick percussion, underpins the instrumental eloquence of his synth-wizard bandmate.  Garner’s intense and inviting vocal adds further sheen to what is an already superlative production.

The finely tuned instrumental skills and innovative improv techniques that come from having studied jazz shine through Antler’s music, setting them apart from most of their electro-pop peers.  They are impressive in their ability to offer up a very self-assured and mature delivery of a cleverly arranged, and lyrically colourful compendium of an infectious fusion of alternative electronic-jazz pop.

Having seen Antler perform live, I know that the sound of this album is not just the waxed up result of Klaseie’s well honed mixing skills, although it is all the better for it.  There’s is natural talent here, in spades – it’s just had some of its rawness filed down, and loose ends tied up, before being boxed up and shipped out, in all its sharply produced perfection.

This isn’t any ordinary electronic pop album – this is a deliciously moreish and addictive confection, carefully and imaginatively crafted by prescient musical savants; an evocative sonic seduction of such hypnotic power, it will leave you in a state of satiated trance.

Antler is:  Natali A. Garner – Vocals,  Johan Lindvall – Synth,  Axel Skalstad – Drums, and you can follow them on Facebook

‘BonBons’ is out now on all digital platforms including iTunesSpotify & Tidal

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With ‘Cult Baby’, Ludvig Moon Have Nailed Their Sound

Foto: Simen Skari
Foto: Simen Skari

It might come as a surprise to you if I were to start a review of a song by an emerging Norwegian band, by referencing two of the biggest bands to come out of Northern Ireland.  Ash, fronted by the sweet voiced Tim Wheeler, became one of the biggest UK&I acts of the early noughties, while their fellow countrymen, Snow Patrol, with mellow toned Gary Lightbody at the helm, went on to become no less than one of the biggest indie-rock acts in the world.  How is all this relevant to a Ludvig Moon review? Well before you tune-in to the main reason that we’re here, give these two tracks a quick spin, whereafter the rest of this review should hopefully fall into place: Ash – Shining Light, Snow Patrol – Just Say Yes.

Not officially released until 27th April, ‘Cult Baby‘ is the first single to be lifted from Ludvig Moon‘s upcoming debut album. Fusing a menagerie of sounds from rock to punk-pop to indie, this is a gloriously anthemic introduction to the next chapter in this upcoming band’s career.  Following on from their 2014 eponymous EP, the band have certainly ramped it up more than a few notches, as they add a heap more fuel to what was an already inflamed, dreampop-stained, indie sound. Citing a medley of influences from Billy Corgan’s, Smashing Pumpkins, to new age experi-psychers Flaming Lips, it is clear that these exciting young musicians take the bulk of their inspo from the American alt-scene, as their sound leans heavily in the direction of the American mid-west.

Fired up with strident glories of guitar muddled through starbursts of synth flourishes, and with its melodies riding a propulsion of percussion, this is pure adrenalin rush at full throttle.   Lyrically hard-hitting, it defies, challenges, questions and explores a gamut of thought-provoking intro & extrospections, confidently delivered with heavily nuanced, impassioned vocals.

Sharing a common bond of loneliness, musical isolation and a youthful angst about what the future might bring, Ludvig Moon have pooled these inspirations and creatively hurled them into their music.  Speaking about the song, frontman Anders Killerud explains: “I wanted the song to reflect the freedom and adventure which we ourselves felt when we were making this record. We felt like we could do anything in the studio and held nothing back . It was important to me, that in spite of such personal and dark lyrics, there should be something uplifting about this track.”

So where do Ash and Snow Patrol come into the equation?  Close your eyes, open your ears and listen carefully to the vocals on ‘Cult Baby‘. Killerud’s voice is practically a perfect match for Messrs Wheeler and Lightbody, so much so, that if I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was from a few miles up the road!  Sonically, there are also strong similarities, which given the success of both Irish bands, can only be a good thing.  If Ludvig Moon can create even half the stir of either Ash or Snow Patrol, they’ll find themselves rocketing up through the charts and out into that great and wider musical unknown, without so much as breaking a sweat.

For now, in new single ‘Cult Baby‘, Ludvig Moon have nailed perfect pop hooks, explosions of melodic fireworks and passionately trenchant and pertinent themes, all of which augurs well for their forthcoming full length release.

The accompanying high energy, tense and terse ‘Cult Baby‘ visual, shot in Oslo, was directed and edited by Team Me‘s Simen Skari, with the help of Marcus Arnesen & Anders Skjærseth. Watch it here,

Cult Baby‘ is the lead track from Ludvig Moon’s upcoming debut album, which will be released on the Riot Factory label.  Get on first name terms with Ludvig Moon who are : Anders, Ole T, Herman, Kristofer, Andreas, Lydia and follow them on Facebook, Spotify and Twitter.

Worth ‘Millions’ – Panda Panda EP Review

Foto Ming Unn
Foto Ming Unn

It might well be the case that a rolling stone gathers no moss, but it’s often the case that a rolling snowball results in an avalanche!

Norwegian band Panda Panda currently has so many snowballs rolling down the slopes of Galdhøpiggen (not just the highest mountain in Norway but in all of Northern Europe) that the combined effect has been an avalanche of press attention and a barrage of enthusiastic reviews.  If they keep firing out releases at this pace, they’ll be so snowed under with wordy positivity, that they won’t be able to move out through doors of their off-piste cabins.

In less than a month, the Pandas (as I affectionately call them), have dropped two singles, one video and an EP. Meanwhile, back at the Nordic ranch, they are currently to be found skating around Norway with their Riot Factory stable-mates, Snøskred and Dråpe, the latter of whom they’ll be joining at the Hulen venue in ‘sunny’ Bergen on 22nd April, dets here.

Having previously featured Panda*2 on this site – check out the interview feature here – it makes sense to continue the tradition and dip into their latest release, ‘Millions‘ EP.  A four-track affair, it comprises the two already released singles, ‘New Friends‘ and ‘Halcyon Years‘, alongside two new songs, ‘Why Are You Still Here‘ and ‘Fuels‘.  Recorded in Greener Studios, Trondheim, the EP benefits from the midas touch of fellow Norwegian, Karl Klaseie’s mixing and production skills.

Panda Panda Live at Trondheim Calling (FB)
Panda Panda Live at Trondheim Calling (FB)

Time to talk music!

Up until now, EP lead track, ‘New Friends‘ was probably the Pandas’ most identifiable song, and by default, the sound by which they had become recognised .  Alternating between indie rock and ballad, this passionate yet tender track, peaks and troughs as many times as the relationships at it’s thematic core.  A melting pot of vibrant guitar jams and a low-key, delicately nuanced duet, the musical maturity of this track blew me away the first time I heard it, and still does.  In addition, there is something altogether quite haunting about the central instrumental line running through ‘New Friends‘, that no matter how many times I listen to it, the depth of its poignancy always catches me, especially at the tail-end of the outro.   Check out the home-made visual for ‘New Friends‘ here.

In contrast to its predecessor, follow on single, ‘Halcyon Years‘, has a rockier, more experimental thrust.  Edgy and urgent, the track boasts a frantic criss-cross of Wildhagen riffs and fuel-injected Sponås drumming, yet somehow in the midst of this punchy, propulsive thrang, we find a playful’n’poppy vocal duet, that sweetens the ferocity of its instrumental accompaniment.

One thing that comes across quite clearly in Panda Panda’s music, is not just their willingness to embrace diversity and change, but also their ability to have a lot of fun while doing so.  You’ll catch my drift from this live edit of ‘Halcyon Years‘ – Voila!

Turning our attention to the two previously unreleased tracks, it’s time to share some exclusive insider info which we recently managed to wheedle out of the band.  Speaking about the creative background to ‘Why Are You Still Here?, the Pandas explain:

“‘Why are you still here’ was at first intended for Håkon’s super secret electronica project. The first demo was full of gritty lo-fi beats, an out of tune piano and lots of random noise. Last summer we started playing it at a rehearsal and it immediately felt like a Panda Panda song. We wrote some new lyrics, and rearranged the song structure. We also got noise guru Øyvind Brantsegg, to track some noisy «Marimba Lumina» in the studio.”    

Well Håkon, your super secret electronica project, isn’t really so super secret any more is it??  Oops!

I mentioned earlier that Panda Panda will be playing support to Dråpe in Bergen this weekend, and interestingly enough, one of the first things that struck me when I heard this track was how similar in structure and playing style it was to the latter’s own music, right down to the tight intensity of the lead guitar sequences not to mention the three tons of reverb.  

Another track, another catwalk on which Panda Panda can parade the diversity and borderless creativity of their musical wares. Again, as with most of their compositions, this track alternates between strident and stripped – fizzing with frenergy one minute, and practically in a state of stasis the next.  The extent of Wildhagen’s guitar playing prowess is further exemplified on this track, as is the comparative ease with which the R/S of Jonathan Fimland Kleven (bass) & Oddbjørn Sponås (drums) sync with each other.  

The only word I can use to describe the vocal on this song is stunning.  The purity of Ragnhild’s lark-trilled vocals sends shivers down my spine: it is an unfiltered vocal, whose clarity is of a quality only Norway can produce.  This is the type of crystal clear vocal that so much is expounded upon by the international press. 

You can hear ‘Why Are You Still Here?’ on the Spotify playlist below.

Millions EP

The final track on the EP is called, ‘Fuels’.  Giving us some more exclusive background, the band divulge:-

“The chorus of ‘Fuels’ was actually a part of the first song we made together. It was a really loud song, with a chorus that we loved but a verse that we hated. After some nail biting rehearsals, trying to make it work, we decided to pick the tune apart and make the chorus into an entirely new song.”

Evocative, tender, with vocals as delicate as raindrops falling on the first petals of Spring, this is quite a beautiful song that, with its pared-back, organic production, exposes the depth of the bands adept and intuitive musicianship.  Sparkling Omnichord chords that twinkle like stars, float over a night sky of of bass driven melodies, building to a delicious cloudburst of hazy instrumental gorgeousness of such exquisite tenderness as to induce an hypnotic trance.

You can watch the live visual for ‘Fuels’ here.  It was shot outdoors on a Trondheim roof, which, I’m led to believe, has seen more than it’s fair share of mini-festivals!!  Secret…shhh.

It is worth pointing out that on listening to the ‘Millions‘ EP, it becomes apparent that the crux on which the Panda Panda wheel turns, is the provident pairing of Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit and Håkon Brunborg Kjenstad. Their perfect symbiosis is the central element from, and around which, all else springs and flows.  The combination of their dawn and dusk vocals, both complements and evokes the lyrical content in perfect harmony with its instrumental backdrop, to such a successful degree as is rarely witnessed in modern day duets.

All things considered, Panda Panda has released an EP of a technically high standard and exceptional musical quality.  Its highly complex arrangements are, on the surface, so glossed over by production of such polish and panache, that one can easily be fooled into missing the intricate web of elements that lie hidden within its dense sonic undergrowth.  I tried to find fault with this EP, and yeah, maybe at times the sound is a little off balance, but only intermittently, and by a fraction, and we none of us would be human if we were perfect.

This is an astonishing debut compilation, made all the more remarkable by the fact that this band only got together a little over a year ago.  As I have said before, Panda Panda has a musical maturity beyond its years and by producing such an eclectically styled, lyrically astute and instrumentally challenging concoction as this at the first attempt, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that when their full length arrives, it will be, if not perfect, as phenomenally close to it as this far-sighted group of unique and unbelievably talented musicians can get.   9.5/10

Panda Panda is : Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit (vox/synth), Håkon Brunborg Kjenstad (vox/guitar), Herman Wildhagen (vox/guitar), Jonathan Fimland Kleven (bass) & Oddbjørn Sponås (drums)

Follow Panda Panda on Facebook, Spotify, Instagram and Twitter.

Millions‘ EP is available now via Bandcamp and all digital channels, details here:-

Spotify: http://bit.ly/millionsEP_Spotify  

Tidal: http://bit.ly/millionsEP_Tidal  

Itunes: http://bit.ly/millionsEP_iTunes

Lovespeake’s ‘Dreamer’ Leaves You Wanting More

Photo Ola Stubberud
Photo Olav Stubberud

Based in the Oslo ‘burb of Sandvika, scenic magnet for so many emerging Norwegian artists, including the lovely ARY, sextet Lovespeake have been expeditiously chipping away at the domestic music scene since their New Year debut with single, ‘DNA.  A new iteration of the now defunct Eye Emme Jedi project, it would seem that these guys cast aside their rockier studs’n’strides for a more technicolour dreamcoat of infectious post-disco pop blends.

Boasting 70s funk, fused with 80s synth, and 90’s American rock-pop, Lovespeake’s sound is a musical flotsam and jetsam, scooped together and packaged up with 21st century attitude.  Neither one thing nor the other, but a whole lot of everything, their borderless, multi-sound music with its imaginative construction and vibrant arrangements, is fresh, colourful and magnetically catchy.

Their latest release, ‘Dreamer‘, is the third single to be lifted from their debut album, which like its lead track, is entitled ‘DNA‘.  If the musical equivalent of the Olympics existed, this track could feature under the ‘electronic gymnastic’ category, and would, most likely win.

Comprising beats that have a tantalising touch of the Tropics, Mediterranean-warmed synth sequences that shine brighter than a sunlit sea, and a confection of infectious guitar melodies and sweet swirling electro-sounds, this is catchy, funked up disco pop in its ultimate form. Passing overhead like billowing clouds are dreamy, breathy vocals, whilst wisps of harmonies float wistfully alongside.

There’s so much going on in this track you could play musical join-the-dots with it and never reach an end.  The most delightful mille feuille of scrumptiousness, ‘Dreamer’ is a mouthwatering deliciousness that will leave you licking your lips in anticipation of more, which luckily, will come at the end of this week, in the form of the group’s ‘DNA’ album.

Lovespeake have found the formula for the perfect 2016 Summer-filled sound, and now, with three gilt-edged singles in the bag, are looking good for a place in the end of year Best Ofs, especially if their much anticipated debut album is of an equally high standard.  I haven’t heard it yet, BUT BOY DO I WANT TO.

Lovespeake is : Alexander Pavelich, Andrew Murray, Andreas Westhagen, Christian Balvig, Elisabeth Nesset and Martin Kaasa.

You can follow Lovespeake on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  Their debut album, ‘DNA’, will be released on 22nd April, via Toothfairy.

The Two Sides To Femme en Fourrure – Review

Seer Promo April 2016

Femme en Fourrure aka ‘Woman in Fur’ (Peta people take your complaints directly to source please) is actually two persons, as in ‘femmes’ Sandra Tervonen and Jusso Malin.   Per their FB bio, their music is “made for … nightly promenades and oceanside sexin'”, which I can’t imagine any sane Finnish person doing without first layerin’ up with three sets of thermals AND the aforementioned ‘fourrure’!  Be that as it may, the furnace temp’ed heat radiating from these gals’ music, is probably enough to provide sufficient ‘sexin’ suitable’ sonic central heating.

FeF have been around the block a bit, experimenting with, and developing, their sound.  Having decided upon a formula of ‘playful abandon + dreamy feminity + jet black alter ego + trance/exper’elctro fusion’ = provocatively decadent dance-pop, they’ve now unfurled their latest ebony clad compilation in the form of Double A sided single, ‘Seer/Eaten

Pop-driven, ‘club lite’, lead track ‘Seer’, is a fusion of sky high synths and bouncing bass electronica that weaves its way around a soft, reverb enhanced vocal redolent of a young Britney, albeit one with a slight Nordic nuance.

Antithetical, pitch-hued ‘Eaten’ (which features ‘Hell is Real’ Trance maestro Stilleti-Ana) carries all the hallmarks of a darkly disturbing dream .  Its sullen depths masked somewhat by vibrant washes of light filled synth sequences, this is a spiralling electronic vortex which sucks you down deeper and deeper, entwining you with it’s tangle of synthetic strands.  Vocals alternate between kisses of come-hither, and biting growls, providing a clever counterpoint that mirrors the light and shade of its musical accompaniment.

This is the Jekyll and Hyde of releases: on one hand you have the sensuous provocateur, all breathy vocal and pouting electronica; on the other stands the dominatrix, pulsating whip in hand, smokey rasping vocal and malignant dark filled melodies steeped in a cloud of synthy mists.

The ‘Seer/Eaten’ combo is pretty heady stuff  and I can only imagine that what comes next, shall prove equally compelling.  Now, what would be interesting, would be to see where FeF would take this project visually.  Something along the lines of a ‘riot of decadence’, maybe?  Hmm … let’s wait and see!

The ‘Seer/Eaten’ Double A released through FEF Corp is available to stream/download now via usual digital channels, including Spotify.

You can hook up with Femme En Fourrure via the following social channels : –

Facebook   Soundcloud   Twitter   Official Website

Is It Really A Year ? … A Tribute To Tom Robinson

Tom Doing What He Does Best by Kate de Ban
Tom Doing What He Does Best by Kate de Ban

On 18th April, 2015, at just about this time of the day, I pitched up all agog at Gerry Diver‘s studio in ‘Sowf Lundun’ for an in-studio session with the legend that is Tom Robinson.  Except that at the time, I didn’t realise he was a lege, I just thought he was ‘that bloke’ on the radio, the one with the lovely velvety voice.

Joking aside, all I really knew about Tom was that he was a jock on BBC6 Music and, that he ran an hub for emerging artists in tandem with this stint at the Beeb.  Called Fresh on the Net, I used to read its weekly music reviews with amazement, wondering how on earth this small team of guys n gals managed to squish listening to nearly 200 songs into a timespan of just under four days, every week, non-stop.

I was vaguely aware that Tom had had a pretty solid career in music, but that was back when, and there hadn’t been any recent releases, until ‘now’.  Now being back in 2015 and a new album, the first in twenty years, being the reason I, along with several other ardent admirers, found myself standing in a fairylit studio, glass of wine in hand, less then three feet from this mega-God of the music industry.

We were wined, dined (yes Malteser ice-creams do count as food) and entertained by the TRB equivalent of Huey, Duey and Luey – Tom, Gerry and Lee (Fosyth Griffiths, Tom’s musical batman) – from early afternoon, through to the late evening, way past the scheduled finishing time, which would have come as no surprise to those like Terry Hughes, who knew Tom going back donkey’s.  A beautiful sunny day, filled with laughter and song, it remains, and will always remain, a treasured memory.  With the ever gracious Tom’s permission, I penned a wee blog about our day in’t studio and ipso facto won’t bore you with any further detail, as suffice it to say, you can read about it here.

Gerry Diver's Studio Gang Photo Kate de Ban
Gerry Diver’s Studio Gang Photo Kate de Ban

One year to the date later, and I’m now a member of that moderating team of whom I was then in such awe, and who inspired me so much to listen to new artists, and up my musical game by dragging my sorry ass outta the 20th century.  How did that happen? Simple really ..  Tom cut me break.  He saw that I liked writing and was obviously a bit of a music nut (or as Steve Harris would say,  just ‘nut’ will do Derv, innit), which in Tom’s world translates as, 1 + 1 = moderator.  Tom is never looking for the next John Peel or Caitlin Moran … he simply wants a team who think the same as he does, those who ‘get’ what FOTN is all about, which is giving new, upcoming artists a voice, a reach, and a chance to be heard.

Neither Tom nor the rest of us do this for the glory of us … we do this because we care.  Because we want to try make a difference when it comes to helping new musicians get a step up on the musical ladder.

Time for Some Shut Eye, Kate de Ban
Time for Some Shut Eye, Kate de Ban

The mods on FOTN work as a team … Every team needs a captain, and every captain needs a wingman.  In our case, those are Tom and the afore-mentioned Steve Harris, he who is the glue that keeps us together (*PoI : Steve has stopped me from unravelling on many occasion at any o’clock, day or night x 7!).

Steve was the guy who, when Tom was touring his afore-mentioned album, (more of which anon), kept the FOTN ship afloat.  So I thought it only fitting, as this is a wee tribute to the big man, that Steve should speak up about TC on behalf of team Freshnet.  Here’s what he had to say …

“Here’s my attempt at writing something nice about his Tom-ness. It’s probably way too long, but tough fucking shit.

The thing I most admire about Tom is his dedication to discovering and supporting new and emerging artists and getting their music heard.

Far too many people in this business seem to leap on a bandwagon as it’s about to set off, but by that point Tom will probably be waving it goodbye, before returning his attention to the next thing, which he doesn’t just do this as a paid gig on the radio, but through the ad-free, volunteer-run Fresh On The Net web site too.

This stuff isn’t easy or glamorous, you have to listen to a lot of tracks that aren’t quite there yet looking for some kind of spark; it can be years before these artists really find their feet, but by then Tom will have known them since they were in the musical equivalent of short trousers.
The rewards are great though. I’ve had the honour of watching a few artists build themselves up from nothing, and it’s often a story that goes untold, all those years and hard work honing their craft, but one day a track comes in and you know they’ve completely nailed it. THEN they start appearing on all those other blogs. Quite often, it was Tom who helped provide the platform they needed to get going and build that momentum in the first place.”

-Steve x

Hear hear, Steve.

Always a Smile, Kate de Ban
Always a Smile, Kate de Ban

In October 2015, Tom released the album, ‘Only the Now‘, in part as a celebration of his 65th birthday but also because his fans desperately wanted him to go back to what he does best, ie. making music.

“… loaded with barbed attacks on everything that gets his goat, Bush, Blair and the neo cons, the government’s restrictions on legal aid, Rebekah Brooks and Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, city boys and bankers all come in for a well deserved batterin’ …”*** this much anticipated album was received with critical acclaim and more than a few standing ovations.   The release was followed by a sell-out UK&I tour, which was so successful that Tom has tagged on another series of live-dates, check here for details.

It’s been a hell of a year in which lot has happened, and mostly all for the good.  Tom has inspired me to forge ahead, establish my blog and plough my own musical furrow.  I’ve made new friends, heard oceans of new music and been embroiled in lots of laughter filled merry high jinks (usually involving Andy ‘Christmas Elf’ Von Pip and Big Jim ‘Could You Get Those Shorts Any Shorter’ Cambo).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief reminiscence, penned with love and admiration, in tribute to a wonderfully supportive and inspirational mentor, leader, musician and above all, human being, family man, and friend.  Thanks for everything Tom, from us to you, and here’s to another year of music & laughter filled moments.  Derv xxx

‘Only the Now’ is available through the usual digital channels, including Spotify, Bandcamp, and via the official Tom Robinson website.  You can tune into Tom’s radio shows for BBC6 Music on Saturday and Sunday nights from 9pm.  Follow Tom on Twitter, here.

** Photographs courtesy of Kate de Ban Photography, Oxford

*** Quote taken from The Best of 2015, The Devil Has The Best Tuna

Blind Spot? More Like Soft Spot! Alex Clemence On The New Lush EP

Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian
Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Today, I am super delighted to welcome the charming, witty and immensely talented Alex Clemence, front man with English dream-gaze band DayFlower, as guest reviewer on the blog.  Alex is reviewing, ‘Blind Spot‘, the first music release in 20 years by 90’s chart-toppers Lush, which they released via their own label, Edamame Records.

so without further ado … In his own words, ALEX!

“Alex is a human male from Norwich who moved to Leicester in 2003 with the sole aim of failing to complete a degree in Economics. He achieved this in some style by dropping out after his first year.

When he isn’t working on fusing the nursery rhymes in his head with his own average guitar playing, he enjoys scotch bonnet chilli peppers, Haribo, Seinfeld box sets, weapons grade Polish lager, Poptarts, hanging out with his 6 year old son, American 9 ball pool (he is above average at this), dreaming up sitcoms that never seem to happen and being in love.”

Lush – Blind Spot EP

Here we go again. Here they come. It’s been twenty long years but finally Lush has returned and it thrills me to say that it’s like they have never been away.  With Jim Abbiss and Daniel Hunt of Ladytron on production duties, the girls are back with the Blind Spot EP coming out on their own Edamame label, and I’ll start by saying that it’s a hugely welcome return. Lush, you’ve been missed!

The EP kicks off with lead track, the recently released ‘Out of Control’ and pulls off that magical stunt of melding the early Lush ‘shoegaze’ sound with the Britpop influences of their later years. Part lullaby and part sea shanty, I shouldn’t be surprised that with my eyes closed, this swirling beauty of a tune evokes images of the ocean.

Heavily reverberated guitars underpin the most hypnotic of rousing choruses, harmonies courtesty of a choir of angels. For sheer depth and atmosphere, this track brings the beauty of John and Michael Heads criminally underrated band Shack to mind, specifically Waterpistol era Shack.  (View the video here)

The following track ‘Lost Boy’ lends a more ominous feel to proceedings. Building beautifully from just vocals and guitar, a lonely voice cries out ‘Now I’ve lost you’, as the pain and suffering is obvious for all to hear. The song only seems to become more urgent with the addition of light percussion, synth and delicately interweaving guitar lines that together create a vast soundscape.  The whole affair sounds like a David Bowie themed party, backed by a 60’s beat combo taking place somewhere in space.  Thats a good thing by the way!
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On another day, the third track ‘Burnham Beeches‘ could have been the opening number.  Easily my favourite song on the EP, it reminds me of New Order at their most dynamic. ‘Beeches’ manages to bring together 80’s dance rhythms and half whispered / half gasped breathy vocals, with euphoric West Coast tinged backing vocals not unlike the kind that Belinda Butcher would bring to My Bloody Valentine. (See the video below)
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Speaking of which, there are strong similarities between this and ‘Off Your Face’ from MBV’s ‘Glider‘ 1990 EP.  Comprising lilting, dipping chord changes and swelling guitars, pure pop lies within this truly joyous throwback to the early 4AD years. I am going to strongly recommend that not only do you jam this track on repeat throughout your day, but that you also give some of your time to listening to this gem through a decent set of headphones.  There are just so many textures to behold that I’m finding something new with every listen. Gorgeous layers piled one upon the other in a way not too dissimilar to what Dave Fridmann has been doing with Mercury Rev over the last 25 years.

 

Lush Live London Hackney Oslo, Kevin Hewick
Lush Live London Hackney Oslo, Kevin Hewick
Closing track ‘Rosebud‘ seems to pick up from where ‘Lost Boy‘ left off. With an almost folky style strummed electric guitar and fractured percussion throughout, ambient guitar noise and strings make this the most atmospheric on the release.  Despite the dark lyrical content and minor chord melodies, this song seems to gather pace in such a way that it feels like it is ending on a positive note. Needless to say this is another track for those of you who like to pore over their music with the use of headphones. The crystal clear guitars accompanied by a playfully melodic bass line feels like it wouldn’t be out of place on one of my favourite ever albums, the lush dreamlike tour de force that is Air’s ‘Moon Safari’.
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All in all, the ‘Blind Spot‘ EP is an hugely welcome return to form and without encouraging an additional sabbatical, well worth the 20 year wait. On occasion reminiscent of Lush at their dreamiest, ‘Blind Spot’ attests to the fact that the girls most definitely have not lost their knack for a killer pop melody. My greedier self would love there to be an album of later 80s / early 90s pop in the spirit of ‘Burnham Beeches’, but I simply couldn’t bear to miss out on some of the more nuanced melodies and atmospherics that are on display here.
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I’m also thrilled to see, hear and write that Lush has retained that contemporary edge that reminds me of some of the better moments of Britpop; think classic Shack & New Order.  Furthermore, kudos to Jim Abbiss and Daniel Hunt who have done a spectacular job on production duties.  I must point out though that the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev fan in me would love to see Dave Fridmann get hold of 21st century Lush.
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I’ll finish by saying this .  Lush – I’ve been running this EP on repeat through my stereo for the past month now.  I hope you have an album planned, AND, that I will not have to wait 20 years for it.
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The ‘Blind Spot’ EP is available via the usual digital channels, plus the official Lush website, details here.

Lush are confirmed to play two shows at London’s prestigious Roundhouse venue on Friday 6th and Saturday 7th May 2016, if you’re lucky, there might just be some tickets left for the second date here (the 6th was a sell-out within hours)They will also play the Manchester Academy Friday 25th November 2016, tickets available here.

You can follow Lush on Facebook and Twitter.

Why the USA will ‘Never Forget’ Zara Larsson

Zara-Larsson-Tonight-Show-640x427

Swedish hip-popstrel, Zara Larsson, is riding high on the crest of a musical wave, having taken American television chat show hosts and their audiences by storm.  Fresh from kicking it on The Ellen Show, where along with UK producer/singer-songwriter MNEK, the gold-lame adorned 18 year old gave a wow-tastically confident live performance of her smash hit ‘Never Forget You’, the dazzling singer can be found blazing a trail through the US Billboard charts.

Currently clocking in at 200million+ streams, ‘Never Forget You’ has already hit number 1 in the US Billboard Digital Dance Chart and is also striding its way up the Billboard Hot 100, where it’s sitting at No.15.
Photo TT
Photo TT 

Within minutes of Larsson appearing on the Jimmy Fallon hosted, ‘The Tonight Show‘, social media again lit up with praiseful comments about yet another dynamic live TV performance.

‘Never Forget You’, a dance-pop duet which Larsson recorded with MNEK, was originally released last year.  The Swede has recently released an acoustic version of Grammis nominated ‘Lush Life‘.

It would seem that Larsson is now clearly beyond One to Watch status … This butterfly has most certainly emerged from the chrysalis.

The Viking Invasion Continues as Tina Refsnes Arrives in Town

Tina Refsnes Live at Mono, Oslo, from her FB Page
Tina Refsnes Live at Mono, Oslo, from her FB Page

The Norwegian invasion of the UK&I continues this week with the arrival in England tomorrow, of songbird Tina Refsnes. Purveyor of Americana folk with a Nordic twist, Refsnes came to the UK’s attention late last year when she released her album, ‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’, which we reviewed here!

Post-album release, Refsnes has recently dropped another single, ‘Alaska‘, from the album, together with the coolest video I’ve seen so far this year! A full length ‘toon complete with heart melting polar bear, a fauna filled orchestra, and heart warming hazes of rainbow coloured Northern Lights, the visual was the brainchild of her close friend Marianne Engedal, who works under the moniker, Skinkeape.  Speaking exclusively to DervSwerve about how Skinkeape came to be involved with the video Tina explained:-

“Skinkeape is a friend of mine who is a brilliant artist and illustrator. We’ve worked well together in the past, but on smaller projects, so I was very excited to finally have her work on a full video. She has a very intriguing mind, so I basically let her just do her thing with very little instruction.”  Going on to talk a bit about the background to the song Tina told us, “The song is about wanting to escape …  to make a run for it when things are a bit crap.  But I think that at the same time it’s message is hopeful, since there’s this idea of how great Alaska would be … although I’ve actually never actually been!”

TR Tour

‘Alaska’ is an abolutely delightful ballad, comprising poignant slide and delicately plucked acoustic guitars, with spacious jazz-brush percussion sweeping away softly in the background.  Refsnes vocal is hopeful and warm, as she tells her wondrous tale of this distant snow laden utopia filled with mountains, trees, rocks, wildlife and little else.  Tina Refsnes presents us with an idyllic landscape in which she can lose herself, while at the same time taking comfort in the familiarity which a place that bears such marked similarities to her native Norway can give.  In ‘Alaska’ the singer has cleverly juxtaposed the comfort of the known with the unexplored and vast possibilities of the unknown.

Tina Refsnes has evolved as a singer/songwriter to the point where the poignant, reflective quality of her sound is a perfect fit for her insightful and thought-provoking lyrics:  lyrics which focus on the real world, real lives and real emotions. Tina has learned how to use her voice – warm, inviting and as honest as it is clear – as the perfect instrument through which she can convey the myriad emotions she invests in her songs conversational lyrics.  For that is what they are, intimate conversations, short personal vignettes, during which Refsnes openly takes us into her confidence, thereby allowing us to briefly see into and share her world.

Hitting the ground running on April 14th at The Old Stables, Wiltshire, a gig which is now Sold Out, Refsnes will bring her quirky charm and uplifting songs to audiences from Bristol through Manchester to London.  Full details here.

You can follow Tina Refsnes on Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter and her official website.

Ahead Of Her Dublin Gig : Introducing Siv Jakobsen

photo by Jørgen Nordby
photo by Jørgen Nordby

A small municipality sits outside Oslo, on the Norwegian strait of Viken, that lies between Sweden and Denmark.  It’s hub is a small village called Asker, and it is from this “intimate and cosy” location that true-voiced singer/songwriter, Siv Jackobsen hails. With a voice redolent of a Line Kasa/Julia Holter fusion, but an approach not dissimilar to that of Hanne Kolstø, Jackobsen’s songs are so startlingly honest, so emotionally stripped bare, that they send shivers up the spine.

Her songs, like those of Kolstø, tell intimate stories, tracts from musical diaries if you will, crafted with an intensity that crosses a myriad emotional spectra. Vocally, Jackobsen is capable of subtle acrobatics and pertinent nuances which artfully evoke the personal depth and density of her lyrics.  Instrumentally, her unfiltered, acoustic compositions, rendered for strings and immaculately arranged, are performed with confident ease.

Siv’s current batch of stark yet exquisite songs, “were created in her old 6×7 “bed with a door room in Brooklyn, NY.”  The tightness of the space within which they were created, resulted in an extremely intimate if slightly claustrophobic or suffocating feeling ; there is closeness, and then there is a back to the wall feeling leaving one totally exposed.  As Jakobsen lays bare pages from her own storybook, so too does she throw down the gauntlet to our own emotional Pandora’s boxes.  Lift the lid and …

“…ruthlessly emotive to the point it should come with a warning label.”  – The Line of Best Fit

Currently on tour supporting American Damien Jurado, Siv Jakobsen plays Whelans Live in Dublin, Friday 15th April, tickets here.  This is an intimate performance not to be missed … one so captivating it will be sure to quietly draw you into its emotive web, rendering you powerless to its magnetic charms.

Siv Jakobsen can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  Her last album, ‘The Lingering’ is available on iTunes as are her latest singles.