Elk’s Specimen EP Is A Journey Beyond Post Rock

There is music which by default tumbles into that categorical looseness known as post-rock, a term so vague that even the most knowing of oracles would be hard pressed to define it.

I like to think of it as a musical free spirit; music without a map or specific direction, meandering aimlessly through a myriad uncharted territories.  Chameleon like changes of sound and texture, vacillating between tempos, swimming seas of varying emotions.  I cannot define post-rock in the same way that I cannot confine the music of Elk to one single genre. The Shropshire four-piece are about so much more than a single-instance of style.  

Elk are Dom Main (vox/electronics), Jamie Wesley (guitar), Will Soutter (drums/electronics) and James Kerr (bass).  They met whilst at Durham Uni where they allegedly studied things medical and scientific, and having a formed a bond over tea, music and er, Elks obviously, they turned friendship into a band and are playing together even since. 

Today marks the release of their debut EP ‘Specimen‘, three tracks of truly phenomenal musicianship and exceptional vocals that radiate transcendence and epitomise originality and diversity.  Despite being recorded in the hermetic confines of an attic the resultant three songs are anything but dark or claustrophobic.  

That Elk take their influences from a wealth of artists – Japan, Radiohead, ’80s electronica – is reflected in the eclectic nature of their music, something which is very evident when you listen to their new EP.  Opener ‘Continuously’ like the ebb and flow of a tide, veers in the direction of Kid A and then away again, falling on your ears like a shower of otherworldly dreams.  Experimental ambient in nature, it comes replete with stick click percussion and slickly executed tempo changes.  After a careful build, the song rises to a deftly woven compelling climax that features a rather adeptly performed insistent guitar solo.

Possibly the most captivating and definitely the most poignant song on the EP is the title track.  I was lucky enough to be on Fresh on the Net reviewing duty when it featured in their Fresh Faves back in February – click here to read the review. ‘Specimen’s gentle rise and fall leads us through a pastoral landscape on its journey to some faraway, meditative nirvana.  Lead singer Dom Main’s angelic falsetto is set in a transcendental ambience the peace of which is broken only by intermittent shards of sonorous guitar.  If you could only use one word, it would be ‘bliss’.

Final track (and best of the three) ‘Iceberg’ makes yet another stylistic volte-face, one which elevates Elk’s post-rock sound to Radiohead levels (lying somewhere between Kid A and Hail to the Thief).  A fusion of electronic wizardry and earthy jazz-pop it is a vivid exploration of texture, a confluence of wildly disparate yet complementary styles.  Its brilliance is in its idiosyncratic weirdness; its divergent elements, perfectly teased and executed, are brought together in a carefully conceived of arrangement and precision production.

‘Specimen’ doesn’t define Elk but rather sets out their stall in terms of skilful musicianship and unbounded innovation.  By taking this unorthodox adventure into unmapped soundscapes, Elk have shown they are willing risk-takers and fearless experimentalists who put originality ahead of populism.

The ‘Specimen’ EP was mastered by Cem Oral (Gwen Stefani, NIN) at Jammin Masters studios, Berlin,  and comes complete with contemporary artwork by the award winning Matthieu Leger.  To celebrate its launch, Elk will join FOTN alumni Sykoya amongst others in the line up for HOTVOX, Camden Assembly, 29th April, details here.  Other gigs to follow, details will be posted on their Facebook page. ‘Specimen’ is out now and available for download from Amazon.

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Discover #Brexit – Music To Break Up To

Photo: Christopher Furlong

As Article 50 is triggered and the process of taking Britain out of the EU aka #Brexit becomes a reality … did you experience that surreal Donald Trump-esque WTF vibe too? … it’s an appropriate time to launch our new music series, ‘Discover #Brexit’.  This UK focussed series will feature songs, possible anthems, which, over the course of the next few years, will help see Britain through its biggest state of flux since WW2.

The series, which will run in tandem with my new Discover Ireland series, will mainly but not exclusively feature artists supported by the wonderful folks over at BBC Introducing.  Some of you will already be aware that I am a volunteer moderator, reviewer and flag flier over at new music artist support hub Fresh on the Net. During my two-year tenure, I have seen at first-hand the challenges new music artists have to overcome to get their name known and music heard. Which is why helping to promote new artists and music has pretty much become a passion!

I’ve witnessed fab bands like False Advertising, Vryll Society and Estrons (work extremely hard to) get their heads above the media parapet, while superb acts like Bryde, Tiny Folds, Cascades, Jazz Morley, The Trusted and War Against Sleep have all had music featured by their respective regional BBC Intro hubs.  Some were even lucky enough to snaffle a slot on the highly prized BBC Intro Saturday Night lives.

The aim of this Discover series, is to highlight up and coming emerging music artists in addition to bringing music from some of Britain’s finest to, if not your doorsteps, then your laptops, iPads, smartphones & co by way of an ever-changing Spotify playlist.

So, without further ado, let’s get the party started.

Dutch Criminal Record

Who? DUTCH CRIMINAL RECORD

Possibly one of my favourite bands of the now, I first came across Chichester based Dutch Criminal Record back in 2015 when I reviewed their hotly faved track ‘Socks and Sandals’ for Fresh on the Net.  They describe their music as ‘indie surf’, I describe it as f**kin’ cosmic.

This is my kinda indie – golden glow vocals, clever guitar riffs and a ‘locktite’ rhythm section.  There’s plenty of instrumental talent, spades of ingenuity and some mighty catchy songwriting behind this fun four-piece, super-popular with music fans and tipsters alike. They’ve successfully pushed four songs through the FOTN machine in addition to having their music featured on sundry Spotify playlists and the BBC Introducing MixTape.  With some gigs coming up including one in London you should keep an eye on their FB page.

While I’ve a thing for their current single ‘Change of Heart’, all warm melodies and renegade guitar riffs, they’ve just released a Super8 shot vid for their track ‘Stuck Between’, here it is, just for you!

WHO? HONEYBLOOD

Glasgow duo Honeyblood released their Babes Never Die album last winter, since which they’ve been all over BBC radio playlists like Piers Morgan on Twitter. Most recently they bagged one of the coveted slots at the 6 Music Festival which, conveniently for them, was held in their home town.

They’re currently upside down in Oz, next stop Singapore, which must come in at a considerably higher ranking on the wow factor scale than Lanarkshire.

Stina Tweeddale and Cat Myers make up Honeyblood, the former on vocal/guitar duties with the latter on drums.  Their sound could best be described as hard and fast, urgent thunder while their vibe screams empowerment and an abundance of une énergie furieuse.  There are traces of pop sensibilities and some softer pop-rock melodies, but the overall style is grunge with a metal shard stuck up its ass. It’s a bit Sleater Kinney with knobs on and all the sass of The Slits, and puts Honeyblood up there with other alt-rock cum neo-punk zeitgeisters such as Wolf Alice, Sløtface and Black Honey.

April will see the pair face into an extensive round of live dates kicking off at Galway’s electic Roisin Dubh (they play Whelans Dublin on Saturday 8th, makes note to check diary) before working through various venues across the UK, wrapping up at London’s Koko in June. Dig into the ‘5th Element’ like visual for their single ‘Sea Hearts’ here.

WHO? DAYFLOWER

Leicester based fuzzsters Dayflower, confectioners of sweet n sticky sugar pop and general all-round reverb-festooned indie dudes.  Another band who’ve won the hearts of FOTN and BBC Intro with their deliciously hypnotic, drone infused anthems.

The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and general Leicester lege David Dhonau (of dystopian hip hop collective ‘1,000,000,000,000 o’clock’ fame  … no words!) and Norfolk blow-in Alex Clemence, Dayflower has been through a few transitions of late resulting in a more tightly knit and focused unit whose sound has, as a result of its metamorphoses, evolved extensively.

Their most recent double A – ‘Neverfriend/Seeing Up’ – sees the band diffuse an edgier, more acerbically grungy tang through their candy-pop drone, giving it more balance while still retaining its original lo-fi sensibilities.  Gone is the smartie-sweetness of previous tracks, replaced with richer, darker and more textured sound fx, putting Dayflower’s drone into the same category as gaze pioneers, MBV.

Curators of the now notorious Candy Dust club-nights, Dayflower’s following has grown to epic proportions well beyond Leicester’s borders, as word of their proactive promotion of a plethora of new music artists from across the spectrum spreads like honey on toast.

Their latest video for the single ‘Seeing Up’, sees sequences of psychedelic fade merge with some captivating drone footage, making for one hell of a mind-bending, awe-inspiring visual.  Watch it here.

WHO? HARLEA

Photo Disorder UK

The London based blues-rock singer is a grittier, sassier Duffy for 2017.  Everything leans towards sixties flecked blue-eyed soul but the grinding rock n’ roll guitar content adds dangerous levels of toxicity. Birmingham born Harlea was snapped up by 0E0E singles label of Propeller Recordings  before releasing two tracks ‘Miss Me’ and ‘You Don’t Get It’.

Harlea’s voice, flecked with golden undertones, is one almighty powerful weapon of vocal force.  It’s determined, stubborn sassiness trimmed with melodic soul, like a turbo-charged Maserati replete with soft, beige leather upholstery. Light to the shade. Omega to the Alpha.

And that’s the thing with Harlea – she is a young woman performing in a genre that is predominantly male. One in which only the gutsiest of females – Chrissie Hynde, Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks – thrived and survived.  Something tells me that Harlea is both well capable and equipped to do likewise.

Playlisted by every major UK radio station and currently doing the interview-rounds with big glossies such as Vogue and Elle, Harlea is set to take 2017 by the scruff and make it her own.

WHO? TEMPLES OF YOUTH

Originally a three-piece called Shallows, this Winchester based outfit downed tools, took stock, did some skin shedding and reinvented themselves as electronic duo Temples of Youth. Jo Carson on vocals and percussion with Paul Gumma on guitar make up this rather thoughtful and unpretentious outfit.  With more of a social and political consciousness than most, their last single was an ode to lost futures in a post-Brexit Britain, although given its inevitable pessimism dirge is probably a more apt description.

Frequent flyers on the airwaves of both BBC Intro South and Solent (the latter having snaffled some of the former’s terroir), Temples have also featured on FOTN and the BBC Mixtape, and have been playlisted by Beeb heavyweights such as Steve Lamacq, Huw Stephens and Dermot O’Leary. In fact, all of their five singles have received airplay between the Beeb Big 3 – 1/2/and 6.

The duo are constantly on the go, writing, recording, gigging and actively seeking out new ways through which to get their music heard.  Most recently they shot two live sessions in collaboration with Context Films, one of which – ‘Enso’ – you can watch here.  Gigs a-plenty are lined up including the Gigslutz affair in London from April through the Summer so keep an eye on their socials for updates.

WHO? KELLY LEE OWENS

Goddess of existential electronica, Welsh synthsmith Kelly Lee Owens is to experimental music as Alan Wilder is to avant-garde. Owens’ ingenuity knows no bounds while her ‘instrumentation’ is precision personified.  Innovative mining and exploration of sounds, samples and weaves are second nature to this mistress of the unconventional.

Like a musical Edison for the 21st century, Owens has forged an unparalleled line in austere electronica in many ways akin to the found-sounds of a hospital ICU, which should come as no surprise given her nursing background.  There’s something of the clinical to her sound yet it is far from simplistic froideur.  Technically perfect it may be, but ultimately this is ethereal escapism. Cathartic and purgative, it is both tangible and intangible, real and unreal. Put simply, this self-written, self-produced, self-titled album, is one of the best debuts I’ve ever heard.

The album includes a collaboration with (Phonofile) Nordic Music Prize Winner Jenny Hval entitled Anxi.. An intense, beat ridden compulsion, it is infused with the dreamiest of liquid harmonies which solidify into a melodic, spoken word sequence, post which the track metamorphoses into a mesmerising trance instrumental, interrupted only by momentary clouds of bewitching chant.

Several festivals including Norway’s Øya, Dorset’s The End of the Road, Primavera and Iceland Airwaves are all pencilled in. Nothing scheduled for Ireland yet but the year is long.  Keep track of developments on the official website.

WHO? THE LUKA STATE

Might just have the next Blossoms right here folks – ie, the next big thing to come up, nay burst their way through the ranks of FOTN/BBC Introducing  – read my review here!

Bold as brass, larger than life and twice as loud, this four-piece rock band from Cheshire are widely tipped for great things (Q, Clash, Disorder) and all you have to do is listen to their latest single to understand why.  TLS have rock n roll on a cinematic scale running striding through their veins; their sound being as widescreen as it is urgent but not at a price.

Rocking out cock-sure vocals with Lamborghini-esque horse-power, front man Conrad Ellis is capable of singing the catchiest of melodies with the most insistent tones without ever dropping a note. Instrumentally too there is a dogged determination to the way this band play.  The overall symmetry of their delivery, a testament to hard graft and dedication, is not to be underestimated.

Like most of the other acts here, The Luka State are touring their cotton sox off – full details on their socials. They have “something exciting coming your way” so stay tuned!

WHO? THE CLEAR

Next up yet another band who made it onto the boards of FOTN and BBC Introducing (musicians, are you getting the hint yet?)  A slick three-piece from Sheffield, The Clear are Chris Damms, Jules Buffey and Bryan Day.

Aside from taking a parking space on the same Fave reviews as the upstairs neighbours TLS – review here – these suave sophisticats have also been featured on the BBC 6 Music shows of Radcliffe & Maconie and Chris Hawkins.

The only word to describe their sonic style is ‘class’ – everything about what they do is elegance personified, right down to the high strings, percussive trim and undulating infectious beats.

Vocalist Julie Buffey’s voice is as suggestive in tone as it is luxurious in sound, her lines delivered with stylish aplomb and a hint of something more.  Musically, The Clear’s style is a compendium of jazz, pop-orchestral, latin and tropical with more than a hint of John Barry around the edges.  So much so that several reviewers mooted that their latest single, ‘The Planets’, would make for one hot momma of a James Bond theme!  What do you think?

WHO? CLYMA (MATT GOODERSON)

Someone who hasn’t yet featured on FOTN, mainly ‘cos he hasn’t tried, but who has worked with artists that have, is Matt Gooderson.  The artist now known as Clyma, is a musician, composer, lecturer, remixologist, producer, DJ and geek renowned throughout the industry for his technical prowess and a cinematic imagination that enables him to concoct the most astonishing remixes.

Recent collaborations include work with Infadels and the glorious Gris de Lin for whom the tech-meister remixed the track ‘Your Ghost’ (more on the way … shhhh!).  Most recently, Tinchy Clyma has done a beyond amazing job remixing the JOSH Savage//Alice Pearl project, ‘Whisper in the Snow’.

Without corrupting the essence or simplicity of the original, Clyma has taken this ‘gentle breeze’ of a song and given it another life, a more vivid direction.  In not interfering with the pared back vocal sensibilities Clyma has held onto the wistful innocence and raw emotion of the original, while at the same time transforming the overall vibe into a more energised and eclectic one.  A master of creative ingenuity, technical proficiency and the art of subtlety.  Check out the Clyma-Savage remix here.

As the Brexit guillotine falls on the green and pleasant lands, valleys, lochs and causeways of the UK, I think it appropriate to bring this to close by featuring an artist of mixed parentage whose heritage reaches out beyond UK borders to disparate countries but who, because of birthright, can identify as British. Lianne Le Havas was born 1989 in London to a Greek father and Jamaican mother.

Will the post-Brexit anti-immigration dystopia into which team GB has thrust itself herald the rise of a monoculture and subsequent demise of the diversity and cross-ethnicity that once made it the great cultural melting pot of the 20th/21st centuries?

As the world turns on a new and uncertain axis, I’ll leave you with one of the most perfect, most sublime of songs to come from pre-Brexit Britain, as sung by the wonderful and very British, Lianne Le Havas.

From blistering grunge punk through blues-rock, from R&B to drone, this is best of breed British music in 2017.  Check out the first cut of my Discover Brexit playlist here … follow if you like. You’ll find me on Facebook and Twitter @DervSwerve. While you’re listening to the playlist you might check out emerging artist support hub & music portal Fresh on the Net, brainchild of Brit legend Tom Robinson.

The Discover #Brexit showcase series will run fortnightly.

Ships Announce Debut Album, Release Second Teaser

Photo : The Beatyard

Irish electro-duo Ships have just released swoon-synth track ‘All Will Be‘ heralding the announcement that their debut album, entitled ‘Precession’, will be self-released on 1st May.

Dublin based Ships are Sorcha Mc Grath and Simon Cullen, who’ve been playing together for a while now, plying their trade, honing their skills and evolving their sound.  Their album has been a long while in the offing, but all good things come to those who wait and their ever patient fans will be more than delighted with what’s on the way if their latest single is anything to go by!

‘All Will Be’ is an inter-galactic synth-affair redolent of the glory days of ’80s electronic dance with an urban astronaut twist. Streams of synth-reverb flow through black-holes of underground blues-bass while elsewhere Usain Bolt is doing the 100m sprint up and down the keyboard.  Vocals are a soft and feminine affair with just the right touch of wistfulness to draw attention without being clichéd.

The track is a follow on to album lead ‘Around This World’ and is out on the usual digital channels.

‘Precession’ will be released in both digital and vinyl formats on 1st May but is available to pre-order now via Ships’ Bandcamp page, link here.

 

 

Jess Glynne & Tom Jones Lead Line-Up For Punchestown 2017

With a stellar line up of stars from every walk of music life, cast across several generations, this year’s Punchestown Music Festival looks set to prove an even more popular draw than its 2016 predecessor.

Running over 29th and 30th July, the two day festival will feature in its line up stars from the ‘60s through to today including Tom Jones, Deacon Blue, All Saints, Lightning Seeds and Jess Glynne.

HRH Tom Jones is a legend in his own musical lifetime. Purveyor of swoon-inducing hits such as ‘Delilah‘ and the Prince cover ‘Kiss’, the Welsh vocal powerhouse is also one of the stars of UK TV hit show ‘The Voice’. Jones has sat in the judging hot-seat since the show’s 2012 inception, except for the 2016 series when he took time out after the death of his beloved wife Melinda.

Scots clan, Deacon Blue, were best of indie breed back in the mid-80s, spinning hit after Caledonian hit with songs like ‘Real Gone Kid’, ‘Wages Day’ and ‘Your Town’. Recently reforming as a four-piece for a much welcomed comeback tour, the pop-rock band have gone on to perform at the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, with 2016 seeing the release of a new album entitled ‘Believers’.

For those willing to take a walk on the wild, whacky or vintage sides, there’s a multitude from which to choose.  Boney Daddy Cool’ M (don’t tell your mother), Smokie of (WTFis) ‘Alice’ fame, ‘a little bit more’ with Dr Hook, and for anyone of a certain age who was swinging around venues like Dublin’s Olympia in the early ‘90s, there’s super ABBA tribute group, Bjorn Again. 

Catering to the younger gen in the crowds will be R&B soul-pop performer Jess Glynne, who coincidentally turned down an offer to join Sir Tom on the Voice judging panel.  The singer has a string of #1s to her name while her track Take Me Home, which you can stream below, was the official Children In Need charity single 2016.

Lastly, for those with a predilection for making random hand signals whilst disco dancing dressed up as a traffic light, there’s the Village People, who may or may not have upgraded to a condo from their 1970’s base in NYC’s ‘YMCA’.

Tickets for MCD’s Punchestown Music Festival will go on sale through various Ticketmaster outlets at 9am on Friday 31st March 2017, www.ticketmaster.ie

Day tickets will cost €69.50 inclusive of booking fee, while Two Day tickets will set you back €129.00.

 

Norway’s Sgrow Return With Existential Trip Hop Brood

Photo Kristoffer Lislegaard

There is something disturbingly sinister about the musical canvas on which Vilde Nupen traces the lyrics of the lead track from Sgrow‘s forthcoming album series.  Yes, you read that correctly, series!

‘Is Anyone Where They Want To Be’ is the first single to be lifted from the electronic duo’s impending series entitled Circumstance.  With the initial album expected out this Autumn and an early 2018 date pencilled in for the follow-on release. it’s going to be a busy year for this Norwegian pair.

Already dividing their time between Toronto and Oslo, both Vilde Nupen and Kristoffer Lislegaard who make up Sgrow, have for the past six months been performing a fine balancing act between working, studying, music-making and general touristing. So, maybe it’s no surprise that the title of their latest single is a rhetorical question about our place in this world?

‘Is Anyone Where They Want To Be?’ is a deep dive into our psyche and soul, worming its way into our spiritual, emotional, and psychological fabric, and questioning the authenticity of our contentment with and acceptance of our lot in life.

Is anyone actually in the job, home, city, relationship, persona that they truly want to be in?  I suspect the answer in the majority of cases, would be a no, but if there’s a happy soul out there who is completely content with the lot, do please let us know!

Photo of Julie Wennesland Artwork
by Kristoffer Lislegaard

Nupen’s probing lyrics are carefully teased out against a dystopian backdrop of avant-garde drone. “What type of distraction shall I pick today to keep me from facing the fact that I’m drifting”

Lislegaard has conjured an intense galaxy shot through with random electronic sounds spiralling through its orbit like frenetic comets. Short showers of synth-iridescence hail down on Nupen’s softly blurred but weighty vocal adding moments of lightness to an otherwise shadowy gloaming.  All in all this is a thought provoking monologue set in a dark, avant-pop soundscape fraught with tension, its inquisitorial storyline coloured by both the insecurities and unsettling challenges of its malcontent narrator.

DervSwerve

‘Is Anyone Where They Want To Be?’ which you can listen to here, is available to stream/download via all digital channels.

Spotify: bit.ly/isanyone         iTunes: bit.ly/iawtwtb          Tidal: bit.ly/istidal
Soundcloud: bit.ly/iscloud    Deezer: bit.ly/isdeezer

Discover Ireland – Irish Music Under The Microscope

Talos – Photo : Olga Kuzmenko

At a time when worldwide music sales continue to decline notwithstanding the ‘great’ vinyl revival and continuous rise of more online music platforms than behoves the industry, the resounding success of the current wave of artists making up the Irish scene is quite the quirk in the global musical landscape.  It’s almost as if many of our current crop of artists are creating music both in and for a parallel universe, such is the remarkable quality, unorthodox nature, and uncharted ingenuity of their idiosyncratic outputs.

But just who makes up this ever-growing Celtic tribe whose unquenchable creativity knows no populist constraints? Who are the Irish artists currently gifting us with a wealth of musical treasure; unpolished, untarnished, glistening in its rawness?

In the first of a new ‘Discover Ireland’ series we look at some of the Irish artists who are not just sealing their credentials on the local landscape, but whose sound is in such stark contrast to that of the current flock of vanilla chart-toppers that they are making international industry veterans sit up and take notice.

Photo of Catherine Mc Grath Uncredited

In part one of the Discover Ireland series, we put ten artists with varying degrees of success under the microscope, finishing off the piece with a tailored Spotify playlist which you can follow or from which you can select a pick n mix to add to your own homespun choices.

Who? HUDSON TAYLOR, Unsigned folk duo from Dublin made up of brothers Harry and Alfie HT. Already have a huge online following as well as a couple of releases under their belt.  Around since 2011, they’ve been steadily building a solid fanbase for their ‘bro-brand’ of acoustic folk, although pegging them into the ‘folk’ hole makes them sound more twee than their pop sensibilities would allow.  Currently gigging whilst working on material for their sophomore album.  2017 should see them considerably up their musical game including stints at several of the big Summer festivals including Wilderness.

Who? THE ELATION, A Cork four-piece who share a love of “Music, Travelling, Writing, Recording, Performing” in any order you care to throw at them.  While they name-check both Kodaline and Hozier in addition to forerunners of the ’80s alternative zeitgeist Talking Heads, it is probably Brit Award Winners The 1975, also referenced, to whom their sound bears the most resemblance.

Debut release ‘Xo‘ is like a mashup between the Mancunians (think 2016 hit ‘The Sound’) and a combo of Haircut 100 and Aztec Camera flying the ’80s funk meets new wave flag. All funky foundations and groove bass floodlit by iridescent synths and fuelled by a healthy dose of blood pumpin’ beats.  They’re only at the start of their voyage and already the future looks XoX.

Who? TALOS, Experimental music project of another Cork native, Eoin French. Like the trademark slow builds in his songs, French has been gathering followers along the winding, visionary roads of his continuous musical travels since Talos’ inception back in 2013. And, like the fantastical zeniths of some of his more audacious compositions, 2017 looks set to bring its own dramatic highs when the multi-instrumentalist releases his debut album, ‘Wild Alee’, through Feel Good Lost on 21st April, the same day as his upcoming Irish tour kicks off in Dublin’s Button Factory. Full details on his FB page. Check out the official video for his current single ‘Odyssey’ here,

Who? CATHERINE MC GRATH, Co. Down born London based 19 year old hailed as the new Taylor Swift. There’s plenty of Taytay pastoral-pop ‘fluences going on but Catherine’s sound isn’t without a touch of LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood.  Leaning towards Nashville for its stylistic direction Mc Grath’s vibe isn’t without its pop sensibilities.  Plenty of finger-picking to keep the double denimers happy yet enough soft-pop to steer her into the mainstream flow.  New single ‘Starting From Now’ was released on 10th March and judging by the Spotify count (66k+ in its first week) is gonna seal her fate as one of the Taylor-type stars of the not so distant future.

Who? BURNT OUT, punk cum rap cum ‘wherever the sound needs to be apropos the moodscape’ kinda band from North Dublin.  Two songs in and already the media big cheeses are drooling.  Their latest, ‘Joyrider‘ is full on Roddy Doyle without the laughs.  Don’t be put off by the heavy-set Dublin vocals, this is more ‘mission statement’ than song.  Tackling Dublin ‘street’ culture with its inherent notion that violence, intimidation and general ‘gittery’ define current day inner-city masculinity, the song seeks to highlight the destructive influences this lads mentality has had and continues to have on young Irish males.  Social commentary doesn’t get more unequivocal than this.

Who? TOOFOOLS, “the brainchild of multi-instrumentalists Steven McCann & Lorcán O’Dwyer”. These Dublin based BIMM alumni are the cog around which many collaborative projections are formed.  While the pair are the project’s masterminds and its only permanent members, they onboard a cohort of fellow musicians to flesh out their live performances.  There’s a lot going on here and like many of their peers, TooFools aren’t foolish enough to box themselves off by sticking to a readily labelled style or sound.

There are some similarities with Norway’s chillwave, feelgood pop scene (yes, it is a thing) where the likes of Lovespeake reign supreme and like their Norwegian counterparts, TooFools muddle gold standard ingredients – funk, retro soul and Tropical pop accessorised with an infectious falsetto – to create a year round Summer sound full of rhythm and sway.  The only single released thus far, ‘Touch’ is a bloody good example of golden sounds with an expert touch on production. TooFools have hopefully, started as they mean to go on. Top Notch.

TooFools @Button Factory Photo: Claudia Verdecchia

Who? SOULÉ, Balbriggan native whose urban with a touch of class sounds are fast gaining her industry-wide recognition. Astonishingly, this part time musician cum student had her first single, ‘Love No More’, nominated for a Choice Music Prize. Soulé is one of a growing number of artists utilising the Dublin based collaborative hub Diffusion Lab and when not studying, can be found there working on new compositions, songwriting being a way of life since her childhood days.

This upcoming talent cites a plethora of influences from Macy Grey to Nineka but one can’t help recalling greats like Aaliyah, Caron Wheeler and Paris Grey as you listen to the Dubliner’s latest single, ‘Good Life‘ (even the title is redolent of what many consider to be the Inner City frontwoman’s finest hour). Creating sounds that cross over from classic soul and R&B to beat driven electronic pop,  Soulé has nailed a fresh take on tried and tested formulae.  Possibly one of the most exciting talents on the scene, get to know her before she goes global.

Who? EDEN aka Jonathan Lei Ming or the next Hozier.  The 20 year old Dublin multi-instrumentalist and vocalist extraordinaire has repeated the impossible already achieved by the Bray man by going from zero to hero without even breaking into a sweat.  In a minute period of time, he has garnered 135k followers on Spotify alone.  How the hell? Whelans bedamned, this genius of EDM dance-pop sold out prime venues from NYC to LA to Berlin and more taking in 43-dates last year alone, and as if that wasn’t wow enough, has signed up to team SB – Scooter Braun – manager to Bieber, Usher, Ariana Grande & various other elite members of the gilded world of music US stylee.

Suffice it say, we can safely assume that Eden has ‘arrived’.  His seven track mini-album, I Think You Think Too Much Of Me’ from which ‘Sex‘ is the opening track, received nothing but five star reviews for its lo-fi perfect blend of wilful electronica and smooth R&B. Move over Andrew, the new kid on the block is moving into your star-filled stratosphere.

Who? BONZAI, another 20 something about to set the world on fire.  Originally hails from Wicklow now living in London, this newbie cut her teeth with Guernsey born electronic producer Mura Masa, something which not only stood her in good stead but got her name very much in the frame.

Another crossover artist who seems to have allowed a myriad influences seep under her musical skin without the prerequiste labels, Bonzai’s style incorporates everything from grime through Brit-soul to sophisti-pop. There are, for example, some interesting nuances of Simply Red (Fairground) on the intro to the track ‘Stepping‘ from her ‘Sleep Hungry‘ EP.  Gigs and festival slots are stacking up nicely including a stint at Dublin’s District 8 weekend 25th March as well as sets at Parklife and Blissfields.

Snatched up by Colombia records, this Irish innovator is yet another firework set to explode onto the international scene.

Bonzai Uncredited

Who? LYRA Last but by no means least, this London based Cork native (yes, another one!) recently scored perfect tens all round when she delivered a blistering, high-octane performance on the Irish version of Dancing With the Stars – watch it below. Whilst comparisons with Enya and Marina Lambrini Diamandis (of The Diamonds fame) are not unfounded, for me there is more of an affinity with the wilful instrumental theatrics and free spirit Baroque pop of Florence Welch.

Her four-track debut EP, ‘W.I.L.D’, released in 2016, includes current single, ‘Emerald‘. The song, which is about remaining true to oneself, is a compelling fusion of intangible other-worldliness and widescreen warrior style instrumentals that could have led the charge of Queen Medb into Ulster, in which Lyra’s demi-operatic vocal delivery in the mould of Kate Bush, is an octave sweeping triumph. Currently riding high in the iTunes Top 10, Lyra is currently notching up some super cool dates for her Summer calendar including the biggest UK emerging artist showcase, TGE – The Great Escape.  Doubtless great things await for this unique and exceptionally talented songstress.

From melodramatic High Queens to the stark black and white realism of on point social commentary, crossing hip hop, soul, EDM and folk, this is Irish music in Ireland 2017.  Check out the first cut of my Discover Ireland playlist here … follow if you like.  You’ll find me on Facebook and Twitter @DervSwerve.  While you’re listening to the playlist you might check out Ireland.ie, the new Creative Ireland cultural website and portal to Ireland.

The Discover Ireland series will continue showcasing Irish music fortnightly.

Come On Live Long Break Bread Along With Some Bones

Photo Rich Gilligan

“It is a truth universally acknowledged” that some of the best musical relationships are those that come about purely by chance. Personally speaking, I pride myself on the number of happy accidents (Lina Kasa remains #1) that have befallen me during the 18+months since I started, as in Tom Robinson seriously started, writing about music.

My latest accidental discovery is upcoming Irish band, Come On Live Long (there’s a story there surely … unlike Killer Kid Mozart who swear there isn’t!), a four-piece who dabble in a myriad genres from dirty electronica through soul-lite to dramatic pop with flecks of folk and urban in between.

Their FB states that their hometown is Dublin though judging by some of the accents I would imagine that denotes place of residence as opposed to ‘natives of’.  How do I know this?  Because these clever dudes have only gone and uploaded a backstory to their latest single, ‘Bones to Break‘, in the form of an ‘here’s how we did it guys’ audio, onto their Soundcloud page.

This short audio tracks the construction of the song from the programming of the initial beat to the complex building of layer upon vocal layer until the production was a perfect ten. It’s a fascinating listen, not just for self-confessed studio-dummies like myself, but also for any would be, will be musicians out there, scrambling around the ‘IoT’ for scraps of wisdom thrown down from the tables of those who have themselves cut their teeth and worn the tee-shirt.

It’s 10-minutes of well thought out, unfussy home-truths about composition and recording. Stream it here…

Now, listen to the finished product!

‘es to Break’ is the lead single from the band’s upcoming sophomore album, ‘In The Still’, due for release in May 2017.  While that excited storm is brewing, one of the gigs that the band will be busying themselves with is a new Irish music meets craft beer initiative.  ‘Future Proof‘, a new live music series showcasing the best of emerging Irish talent will kick off in Bello Bar on 22nd March – tickets are available online or at the door (if they’re not already sold out!), details here.

I’ll leave you with a track from Come On Live Long’s debut album ‘Everything Fall‘.  The song is called ‘For The Birds‘ and it was its title which caught my eye on Soundcloud.  Given my current state of mind, it resonated!

With its reverbed echoey vocal and intergalactic sound fx it leans towards dreamy electro-pop but blues-hued guitar licks and sexy lounge percussion drag it back down and anchor it to a very gritty earth.  That is, until the whole thing explodes sky-high. A gloriously unexpected firework, this dramatic flourish of guitar drone and spectacular synth flares and dazzles, bringing the track to a spectacular close fading out with one last breathy note.

Check out ‘For The Birds’ and the rest of Come On Live Long’s published music on Souncloud, MySpace and Bandcamp.  You can check in with their FB and Twitter pages to keep up to speed with album and tour-date (yes, there will be a promotional tour) developments.  Derval.

The Choice Music Prize – How The Odds Are Stacked

The 12th annual Choice Music Prize, Ireland’s premier award for album and song of the year, is once again upon us.  Now sponsored by RTE, this year’s ceremony, which is being held in Dublin’s Vicar St, will see some of the crème of Irish music line up for what should prove to be an intriguing evening!  The ceremony which will be broadcast live on 2FM from 7pm, will hsve the ever popular Louise McSharry at its helm.

The shortlist is made up of ten nominees from which the eventual winner will be decided by a panel comprising bloggers, DJs, journalists and ‘industry professionals’.  This Decameron have between them produced some of the strongest albums to hit the Irish music scene in several years and comprises an eclectic mix of artists from industry stalwarts such as The Divine Comedy and Wallis Bird and emerging talents like Katie Kim and Overhead, The Albatross.

Yes, there are some glaring omissions, notably ‘New Forest’ by Cathy Davey and Dublin based Little Green Car’s ‘Ephemera’, but this year’s list of contenders is more than strong and reflects an extremely diverse batch of talent from across the very wide Irish musical spectrum.

So who are the shortlistees and how will their opuses, or opi if you’re a stickler, fare?

ALL TVINNS – IIVV

Red hot music fan faves and darlings of the media ‘smart set’ All Tvvins are possibly the most commercial cum radio-friendly of the nominees.  Their music, feisty pop rock fused with electronic elegance, is sophisticated cool with just the right amount of gung-ho on the side.  Would be a popular result amongst the music buying public. 5/4

BANTUM – MOVE

Going under the Bantum moniker, Cork man Ruairi Lynch both dipped his toes and stuck his fingers into a gazillion pies here; eclectic is an understatement.  Electro-rap, funk, and trance are just some of the myriad genres that raise their head above the parapet on this multi-dimensional critically acclaimed debut.  Would be a more than worthy winner. 10/1

WALLIS BIRD – HOME

‘Home’ is Wallis Bird’s fifth album and her most astonishing, visceral, and wonderful.  Period. This should be right up there in the short odds category, but alas is probably still ranked as an outsider by the Paddy Powers of this world.  Heart-felt lyrics, perfectly nuanced, pristine vocals, and delightfully surging choruses bursting with symphonic drama make for a sensitively arranged yet exuberant thing of love and joy.  Recognition by the Choice panel would be sweet. 5/1

THE DIVINE COMEDY – FOREVERLAND

What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about Neil Hannon, wunder-composer, songwriter extraordinaire and lit wit behind The Divine Comedy.  ‘Foreverland’, probably in the top three albums of 2016, sees Hannon take up the mantle of Choice nominee for the second time.  It would be an incredible coup if he pulled off a Usain Bolt like double – he won in 2006 for ‘Victory For The Comic Muse’ – but, if the god’s of whimsy are smiling … Evens

LISA HANNIGAN – AT SWIM

Another entry in the top three albums of 2016, Lisa Hannigan’s ‘At Swim’ is serenity and complex simplicity personified. An highly accomplished fusion of vintage and modern-day folk-pop fleshed out with what can only be described as abstruse poetry brought to life by the gentlest and loveliest of vocals.  The underlying emotions are so perfectly and honestly conveyed they’re almost tangible. A strong contender, it would be an hugely popular win. 3/1

KATIE KIM – SALT

Relative unknown Katie Kim is one of the rank outsiders on the list, but woah what a steal if ‘Salt’ were to bag the gong.  A bit Lana del Rey with a midnight twist and cinematic fx, the Waterford native nailed her sound on this her third album.  Enigmatic, hypnotic, urgent sounds that switch from stark to grandiose with sophisticated ease.  Could be the surprise of the night! 6/1

JAMES VINCENT MC MORROW – WE MOVE

Possibly the most talked about Irish album of 2016, ‘We Move’, the third album by Dubliner James Vincent Mc Morrow is the flame white hotter than blue fave to not just walk but run away with tonight’s prize. This well oiled machine turns over soul, synths and stylish grooves with Mc Morrow’s trademark vocal to the fore of, but not dominating, its soundscape.  Like Hannigan, JVMc does a really sleek line in seeming simplicity.  Don’t be fooled.  This is a master at work.  The critics’ choice … 6/4

OVERHEAD, THE ALBATROSS – LEARNING TO GROWL

Don’t you just love the names of both band and album?  One abstract, the other ‘feral’ in nature.  Sitting alongside Bantum as partner in rank-outsidership, this Dublin sextet are nonetheless a more than worthy inclusion on the list.  The album consists of ambitious post-rock cum prog in which they run amok through a varied landscape filled with bursts of choral deliciousness, elegant orchestral flourishes, intense tightly-woven sequences and rich elongated spaces.  Everything about this album is superlative – from the warm and expansive atmosphere to the exquisite mastery of the instruments.  The connoisseurs choice 10/1

RUSANGANO FAMILY – LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD

It would have been a sin had this album not been included on the list.  A testament to the prevalence of hip-hop in today’s scene, ‘Let The Dead Bury The Dead’ is a thought-provoking dynamo from a trio whose star is firmly in the musical ascendant.  Kick-ass driving foundations underpin spitfire vocals and on point lyrics.  Would probably be the Mercury Music Award type of surprise if they won and would certainly knock the corners off the Rubberbandits if they did!  I jest!  Not up there with the too hot to handles but a win here wouldn’t come as a surprise to many in the industry.  7/1

WE CUT CORNERS – THE CADENCES OF OTHERS

Oh sweet guitar playing of the Caribbean how I love you. With hints of reggae, Windies jam and low slung blues bass ‘The Cadences of Others’ is as deceptive as fruit-punch; with its colourful display and killer blow, it is quite the indomitable force.  Clever lyrics, left of centre melodies and some ingenious orchestral manoeuvres make this a bit of a well-educated and riveting keeper.  In with a loud shout. 6/1

For your delectation, I’ve whipped up a playlist sampling one track (not necessarily a lead or single) from each album.  The Choice Music Prize will be broadcast live from 7pm tonight on 2FM.

Ellis May: ‘Old Love’ – Black & White Avant-Gardism From Denmark

nikolaj-moeller

The Danish music scene is currently in the ascendant having seen quite the flurry of new fledglings flit across its airwaves last year.  2017 looks set to be no different with a plethora of new releases from the cobbles of Copenhagen having already hit our freshly wiped playlist spaces.

Multi-disciplinarian Sophia Maj, is the force behind new avant-garde solo music project ‘Ellis May’.  A sound designer/engineer by trade, she has most certainly brought the weight of her technical nous to bear on its productions, the first of which, ‘Old Love’, has just been released.

‘Old Love’ is like a sonic confluence of childhood piano sketches, vintage projector reels and the kind of ‘reaching for’ demo sounds a young DM used to play around with in Hansa.  The distorted interplay of  ‘drunken’ staggering around the bass, and repetitive Nyman-like sequences pirouetting across the treble makes for quite the aural confusion.

The overall musical impression though is one of black & white vintage; a faded, scratchy, slightly damaged musical accompaniment to an early 1920s silent movie of a Germanic persuasion.

The vocal is another trip back in time, albeit a more extraordinary and ambiguous one.  It has all the black and white smoky drawl and froideur of Marlene Dietrich strobed by quite an enthralling lilt redolent of the trademark tremulous falsettos of a youthful Martin Gore; a man who spent many years more in touch with his feminine side than most of the women he dated!

“To actualise the song’s authenticity I didn’t want to be a singer singing, I wanted to be a woman singing”.  Unfortunately for me, there is a disconnect between the aspiration and the reality, for what is an ultra-womanly and absorbing vocal during the verse, slips into an asexual, banshee-like wail on the chorus.  In so-doing, it loses that very same womanliness or femininity for which May was striving.

Yet, for all that, there is something utterly absorbing about May’s music and in particular, the pin-point precision with which such utterly quirky sketches have been arranged.  It reminds me of an old saying of my grandmothers – “from the sublime to the ridiculous” – May’s track has both in spades.

I normally come down on one side or the other when it comes to music, but if May’s aim was to throw confusion into the thought-provoking mix, she has well and truly succeeded.