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.

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A Dozen Diamonds That Gave A Shine To An Otherwise Murky 2016

Julia Holter

Julia Holter

Well here we are, on the cusp of yet another new year.  Who’d have guessed that as we stumbled unsteadily in a post-Christmas toxic daze towards 2016 that it would prove to be one of the murkiest, most unsettling and quite frankly disturbing of years.  One can only hope, and there is always hope, that this coming year will bring gladder tidings and a lot more joy than its predecessor.

Musically, 2016 had many, many highs.  It also shared several heartbreaking lows not least amongst which were the untimely deaths of Prince, George Michael and David Bowie – three of the rather large cohort of celebrities and legends who passed away in this year of darkness.  While those legends who died were predominantly male, much of this year’s sparkle mainly came from the female stars of the music world.  Lady GaGa, Beyonce, Marissa Nadler, Taylor Swift, Julia Holter … just some of the big female names that featured in the 2016 musical calendar.

Not surprisingly, some of them feature in my Dozen Diamonds of 2016 – a playlist of songs by international artists, with a select contribution from our part-time contributor, Eddie Sweetman.  Interestingly, the two artists selected for inclusion by Sweets are both male, while mine are predominantly female. Those choices themselves would probably make for an interesting case-study!

So which songs, by which artists made it into our top twelve, and why?

12. Margaret Glaspy – Pins and Needles (USA)

Strong, feisty country tinged indie with an edge.  There’s a waft of punk attitude blowing through the gritty melody, and more than a hint of steely determination in the ballsy lyrics.  The right side of rock for my tastes; tastes which I seem to share with most of BBC Introducing, BBC6 Music and BBC 1 … not a bad benchmark. Classy, savvy, strong, energised sounds from a lady who’s going places.

11. Birdy – Wild Horses (UK)

Twilit voiced, inspired poet and musical prodigy, Jasmine Lucilla Elizabeth Jennifer van den Bogaerde aka Birdy, has seen her star rise, and rise, and explode.  World class productions are now the order of the day but Birdy still holds on to the spiritual and emotional qualities so inherent in her earlier more gauche works.  With a vocal range that can scale mountainous heights and scrummage fireplace ashes, this super-talented musician could craft a song from the nothingness of a silken spiderweb and make it a masterclass in songwriting and performance.

Her 2016 album, ‘Beautiful Lies’ was a gift to the world – a finer, more emotive, and splendid talent you will struggle to find, and with even greater things sure to come, the future is “global” for this little songbird.

10. The Last Shadow Puppets – Les Cactus (UK)

Like them or loathe them TLSP are nothing if not entertaining. Seeing them live in Oslo was akin to watching a human firework display crossed with the energiser bunny thrice spliced with Poitin.  A pair of musicians who have most certainly put the roll back into rock, Turner & Kane may take the music seriously, but the live performances are treated more like a fun ride on the amusements. Never ones to shy away from taking the piss out of themselves, the video for their cover of ‘Les Cactus’, is a classic example of TLSP ‘on form’. As a cover, it pales in comparison to the Jacques Dutronc original, but as a piece of entertainment, it doesn’t fall short.

9.  Ed Harcourt – Occupational Hazard (UK)

Intense, moody, brooding, cavernous, blazing, ferocious – just some of the words I would use to describe Ed Harcout’s 2016 scorcher of an album, ‘Furnaces’, every pun intended.  One of the standouts LP releases of the year, ‘Furnaces’ reached out to and drew into its fold, a broader, more diverse audience than any of the Englishman’s albums had hitherto succeeded in doing.  I was drawn hook, line and sinker to this track because of the wolverine intensity of the guitar sequences and brutal rawness of the lyrics, the combination of which is addictive.  Brutal ingenuity at its bloody finest.

8. Radiohead – Burn the Witch (UK)

The first of two entries from the worlds greatest band EVER, ‘Burn the Witch’ was one of a pair of picks by sometime contributor Eddie Sweetman.  In his words, “incisive, relevant an astonishing comeback and the highlight in my opinion of the album.”  Need we say more?

7.  Amber Arcades – Fading Lines (NL)

What can I say.  I fell in love with this song on first play.  Like a 21st century incarnation of The Cardigans,  Annelotte de Graaf has all the dreamy deliciousness of that Nina Persson vocal, along with plenty of her antecedents uber Nordic cool!  Sexy, edgy, inviting indie-pop with a swirl of darkness running across its shiny exterior.

6. David Bowie – I Can’t Give Everything Away (UK)

The second of Mr Sweets’ picks, and a poignant one at that.  ‘Blackstar’ was a huge favourite amongst the bloggerati and a fitting finale from a gifted man, musician, artist, performer & more, who was truly one of a kind.  On his selection of this particular track Eddie explains: “This was the last track Bowie ever released. Poignant and delicate. Even more so now that we know he was aware he was dying.”  A fitting tribute I think you’ll agree.

5. Marissa Nadler – The Best You Ever Had (USA)

Sadly sickness struck (again) when Marissa Nadler came to town … “out damn ‘germ’ out I say” said I, alas to no avail.  Laid low, my chance to see this bewitching enchantress weave her goth clothed spells was gone in the blink of 24 hours (the length of time it takes me to go from apparently healthy to woefully ill).  I had sped towards Nadler like a bee to honey on the recommendation of my ‘pen as sword’ icon, tQ scrivener John Doran, who had bade me not to miss her more than magical live performance.  Instead, I’ve had to make do with looping replays of her album, ‘Bury Your Name’ from which this is my stand out track. Delish!

4. Julia Jacklin – Coming of Age (Aus)

The new age Little Miss Firecracker of country-grunge hits Dublin at the end of February 2017 and nothing, I mean NOTHING will stop, hinder or hamper my path to Whelans! Elbows at the ready, that space up the front is mine. Part of that new wave of punky twang that includes fellow upcoming songstrel Margaret Glaspy, Julia Jacklin takes smartly honed real-life lyrics and sandwiches them between slices of heaving melodies chock full of punchy guitars layered over a tightly woven R/S.  The result is impossible to resist infectious country stained down and dirty pop. Only a fool would miss the chance to see this raw and rousing talent shine live!

3. Radiohead – Identikit (UK)

2016 saw the arrival of what was possibly the most awaited album for years.  ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ didn’t disappoint.  This piece of classic Radiohead was sheer musical perfection packed with all the innovative ingredients that have made this quintet the consummate musical giants that they are.  And while most blogs will have opted for either of the two singles, this off-kilter piece of jazz infused experimental alt transports me back to the halcyon days of ‘Kid A’.  With its lyrical nods to Murakami’s 1Q84 (there was a similar intertwine between ‘Kid A’ and Kafka on the Shore), haunting interludes from vocal ghosts, and natty, spacious percussion Identikit is the understated star in this a stellar compilation.

2. Julia Holter – Lucette Stranded on the Island (USA)

Yeah, yeah I know.  The album was released in 2015.  But for me 2016 was all about Julia Holter.  Having failed to make her Dublin concert earlier in the year, one of the main catalysts for my travelling to Oya in Oslo, was the chance to make up for that lost experience.  While thirty minutes was far too short to soak up the musical enchantment magicked by an artist of Holter’s calibre, as luck would have it, Julia returned to Dublin in November and gave, what was for me and the several hundred other spellbound concert-goers in Vicar Street, the live performance of the year.  Compelling, captivating, magical, powerful, innovative – Julia Holter ranks as one of the most outstanding of contemporary female artists. This ingenious track just goes to prove it.

1. Weyes Blood – Generation Why (USA)

Not since hearing Dusty Springfield sing ‘The Look of Love’ have I come across another female vocal that radiates such warmth and richness, with a darkness edged with light. A voice with a true and unfaltering power cloaked in a sheath of softness like an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Not until that is, I heard the voice of Natalie Mering, the enigmatic talent behind music project, Weyes Blood. ‘Generation Why’, from the album ‘Front Row Seat To Earth’, is lyrically inspired and musically fresh, and while it contains many of the default elements of a classic pop song, it is the shades of daring alien electronica and the edgy undertones to words sung with angelic clarity that take this song to altogether another level.

The inclusion of so many American artists reflects the shifting sands of my musical tastes during 2016.  For me personally, this has been quite a remarkable year in terms of the quality and diversity of the music that’s been released.  And while the likes of Bieber, Rihanna and A-Z of Hip Hop may dominate the charts, the greater wealth lies in those treasures which remain beloved of those worthier barometers of musical greatness – The Guardian Culture, DiS and my personal fave, The Quietus.

I’ll leave you with a Spotify list of the 12 tracks featured in this sparkling retrospective … and hope you enjoy them as much as both Eddie and I have done.  May 2017 bring more shimmering gems to brighten up our sometimes more than mundane lives!

Dédé Davi Makes Her Debut & Alan Wilder Is Back A La Mode

Dede
Dede

Alan Wilder steps back in from the sidelines as performer-producer on debut single from upcoming Londoner, Dédé Davi.

Alan Wilder, man behind the Recoil music project, formerly one quarter of Depeche Mode, those pioneers of synth pop whose music captured the zeitgeist of ’80s experimental electronica, and general all-round enigma, has, after some years of silence which presumably he ‘enjoyed’, resurfaced in the form of performer/producer on an R&B piano-ballad by an upcoming English singer/songwriter.

calling-the-clock

‘Calling The Clock‘ is the debut single from Londoner Dédé Davi to whom Wilder was introduced by erstwhile Mode road-manager, Daryl Bamonte, now a successful label and artist manager in his own right. Dédé, who has gone from a Uni degree course, through being BBC play-listed, to working with the likes of Steve Hewitt (Paul Draper, Placebo), is currently in-studio working on her debut album.

Rehearsed and recorded in a negligible four hours, the song sees Wilder reprise his role as accompanying pianist, and music composer and arranger, one that recalls his indelible contributions to songs like ‘Somebody’ and ‘Pimpf’ and which will doubtless reawaken the memories of many a Mode fan.

Speaking of the collaboration with Dédé. Wilder said:

 I was struck not only by her beautifully soulful and sophisticated voice, but also the simplicity and directness of the words along with a melody which left plenty of room to come up with the arrangement … With limited hours in the studio, an immediate focus was required to get the right piano and vocal performances … The whole experience was refreshing and rewarding …”

alan-wilder
Alan Wilder

Similarly, the song itself – lyrics & melody – was written in a matter of hours, early ones at that, in a creative burst that saw the Croydon-born artist put body to a title that had been lying around for quite some time.  Explaining how the track came about, the singer confessed:

I knew I liked the sound of it; I just didn’t have a clue what it meant to me or what it could turn into. It came out of frustration, I kind of just stopped caring what it could be and at 1am on a Saturday I just wrote what came out and what I felt like.”

Listening to the lyrics one can easily understand how they flowed during the lonely darkness of the small hours.  The sense of frustration is palpable, the emotion raw, the uncertainty the territory of the still of the night.

Wilder’s musicianship is as meticulous as it is intuitive and his understated yet effectual performance provides the perfect balance for Davi’s heartfelt vocal. Her voice, which is pitch perfect and well controlled throughout, has a warmth and silkiness that lends itself well to this style of soulful balladry.  Mr Bamonte certainly had a eureka moment when he conceived of this perfect musical pairing!

‘Calling The Clock’ is a masterclass in subtlety and discernment.  A modern day soul song, emotionally stirring without being overindulgent, performed with accomplished restraint, by two musical perfectionists.

Dédé Davi  is as they say, ‘one to watch’ and so in a way, is Alan Wilder. Where or when he will next be seen or heard is anyone’s guess. We can only hope it won’t be another four years. In the meantime, you can download or stream ‘Calling The Clock’ (our on Smile Records) here : itunes | spotify and watch Dédé perform the song in the video here,

Pascal Pinon – Sundur : Apart And Together

PP Sundur

“All through the years of my youth, Neither could have known
Their own thought from the other’s, We were so much at one”

– ‘O Do Not Love Too Long’, W.B Yeats

Minimalism leaves little room for hyperbole.  It offers up no place to hide.  It leaves both musician and reviewer exposed.  No chicanery to smokescreen or dazzle.  No scope for canny musical or verbal legerdemain.

This is exactly the position in which, sisters Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir of Pascal Pinon have put themselves.  In their new album, ‘Sundur‘, they have laid themselves bare on a sparsely decorated expanse none too dissimilar to their Icelandic home.

This is an album with its roots in their sibling relationship, the beating heart from which it stems and flowers upwards, a slight and whimsical delight.

Taken from the Icelandic proverb, “sundur og saman” or, “apart and together”, ‘Sundur’ charts the ever shifting circumstances of a relationship sundered by distance and necessity but welded at its seams by an unbreakable bond formed since birth.

Togetherness in separation is at the heart of both the album and its opening track, ‘Jósa & Lotta’.  

PP Sundur
Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir

A sepia filtered intro flows into a piano acoustic duet of such delightful simplicity the gentle emotion of the vocal is allowed to float to the fore.  Listening to the sisters sing is comparable to watching white light shine through a double layer of crystal.  Pure, ice-clear iridescence!

External elements only come into play as the song draws to a end.  Taking up an outside looking in kind of stance, these never once cross the threshold to break into the continuum of looping piano sequences.  Egg shaker percussion, and search and seek synth lines, evolve into an alien interference to close out a song that subtly contrasts old with new, and the simplistic with a futuristic unknown.

While the album opener centres on relationships between the living, the second track in, ‘53‘, is very much about following and reconnecting with those who have died. While the instrumental hinges on a repetitious guitar loop that encircles the mournful vocal, the delicately crafted lyrics centre on a mother-son tragedy.

The deep pain and unbearable loss suffered by the protagonists are carved with such sincerity and understanding as to clearly evince the keen insight into human reaction and emotion with which the Ákadóttir sisters are possessed.

“I wiped the tears that almost fell, in the church, If I was a prayer, I’d pray for her, & hope that she’s found some heaven”

While Pascal Pinon sing in English, their indigenous language is Icelandic, so it should come as no surprise that their vocal is at its most fascinating when they sing in their native tongue.  There are two such songs on ‘Sundur’ –‘Skammdegi’ and ‘Ást’.

Icelandic for ‘love’, ‘Ást’, is an enchantment of icy piano notes that fall like tears through raindrops onto the most fragile of vocals. Accessorised with a momentary burst of melodrama and a handful of guitar strums, the minimalism works because of the songs earnest simplicity.

It is through their on-point use of such simplicity that Jófríõur & Ásthildur Ákadóttir exemplify their proficient and intuitive understanding vocal nuance, pertinent pauses, and spaciousness, used to reinforce thematic weight in an instrumental that itself is practically weightless.

‘Skammdegi’, which means ‘midwinter’ , is another twilit mesmerism. Staggered vocal mirroring melds, forming a 3D vocal of strange, Lothlórien loveliness.  The sisters’ voices start this dance apart, pirouetting gracefully around each other, but by the end they are dancing together in glorious unified harmony.

Taking up the instrumental mantle of this menagerie are two tracks,  ‘Spider Light‘ and ‘Twax’ (such a great word, isn’t it?).  The former has a very retro vibe redolent of the early ’80s electro-labs of OMD or Thomas Dolby mashed with some ’70s cabaret bossa nova.

This electronic trip back in time is reined in by a piano sequence with all the force and agility of a strong breeze. The piece ends with the most chillingly fantastical electronic horror … ‘spider light’ sound effects!

As an accordion player myself, it was only natural that I would be drawn to the strains of ‘Fuglar‘, a muddle of accordion and harmonium, played in seesaw staccato reps redolent of a car alarm. An interesting, quirky ditty in which the instrumental sum of random parts punctuates the vocal. It reminds me of my childhood, when I started to learn accordion, and would sit honking and depressing wedges of notes just to make a musical noise.

‘Fuglar’ doesn’t just give us a glimpse of another dimension to Pascal Pinon’s personality – fun and slightly zany with a willingness to not just think outside the box, but to rip holes in it – it also explores their adept musicianship and wildly creative streak, both of which cross a broader spectrum than first listen might assume.  Theirs is an imagination with few bounds, moulded by a musical skill that has learnt through experience that restraint can work to its advantage, and that less is often more.

Pascal Pinon

“For nothing ever stays the same …”

How often does one get the chance to name-check Marlene Dietrich in an album review? Once? Twice if it’s a leap year?  This is what I love about ‘Sundur’  – its sheer diversity and eccentricity, and I use that term in the most respectful way possible!

“The main themes in ‘Orange’ is wordplay (repeating phrases but changing one word to alter the whole meaning), diary- or a kind of memoir-styled lyrics and imagining you’re in a piano bar in the 50’s singing about your loves and tragedies.”

The album’s lead single, ‘Orange’ is the kind of song Marlene Dietrich would sing if she were hanging underneath the lamplight today.

“He’s still in recovery from my bitterness”

Exquisitely original, ‘Orange’ is about love, lovers, and breakups.  Its old music hall piano instrumental accompanies a keenly penned, incisive and droll-humoured monologue that reminds me of Victoria Wood.  This is a wonderful modern day twist on vintage!

The album finale is ‘Weeks‘, one of its few contemporary electro-tracks.  It’s an interesting quirk to end a predominantly “reserved” ambience with a mad scientist’s cocktail of knob twiddling and electro “divers alarums”.   It comprises a musical frenzy over which an insistent vocal gently punches the fraught air, as it struggles with a claustrophobic atmosphere created by the peripheral electronic entanglement.

“I wonder if time will be soothing or malignant or will it take us back to where we were.

You took my sanity a part one shouldn’t give away and with tenacity your grip is locked across the sea.”

By taking a pared back approach to arranging ‘Sundur’, Pascal Pinon have successfully achieved maximum impact with minimal instrumentation.  They have skilfully attained a sound as delicate as egg-shell, a whispering and at times idiosyncratic music that effortlessly evokes the deepest sentiments with a grace and eloquence many can only aspire to.

A series of magical moments at times shrouded in mystery, ‘Sundur’ gives us a glimpse into the secret world of siblings, a fascinating phenomenon that transcends the physical.

For more information and to keep up to speed with all releases and news, follow Pascal Pinon on Facebook.  They go on tour shortly taking in Poland, Germany, Holland, France and Britain (alas, no Ireland!): again, full details on their FB page.  ‘Sundur’ is available to buy via Bandcamp and to stream on Spotify.

Bayonne’s Crystal Clear Music ‘Appeals’

Bayonne aka Roger Sellers
Bayonne aka Roger Sellers

If you pulled a galaxy of stars down from the night sky and, cast them, as an elfin net shot through with beads of shimmering energy, across a studio of piano keys and samplers, the result would be on a par with the resplendent iridescence that is ‘Appeals’, the latest offering from Austin (Tx) based electro-whizzkid producer Bayonne.   

Waltzing droplets of twinkling starry energia spin and soar, burst and explode in this new fantasia from the Texan electro-oracle, a stellar sonic web spun with a rapidity and pinpoint accuracy akin to that of the mesmeric ‘speed of sound’ musicianship of Philip Glass.

As a frenzy of piano loops is infused with electronic rotations and even more layers of cyclical sequences, an assortment of spectacular images is conjured up, from running through the snow-kissed vast lands of the Nordics, to the animated flow of bubbling brooks bouncing downhill over shiny coloured stones, feeding their hinterlands with life and vitality.

But the picture that most springs to mind when listening to ‘Appeals’ is that of purity and transparency, of healing and invigoration, all the things one thinks of when the word ‘crystals’ is mentioned.  And, it is indeed crystals that form the centrepoint of the new Zach Stone directed visual for this Bayonne composition.

Speaking of the visual Stone explained, “The visuals for ‘Appeals’ were an experiment in creating the illusion of growing crystals using household objects like ziploc bags, cellophane, and plastic trinkets. We shot a lot of real crystals as well, attempting to blur the line between the organic and artificial materials.” 

Primitives Artwork
Primitives Artwork

‘Appeals’ isn’t just electronic pop.  It is wildly beauteous, electronic pop-fantasy that dances and pirouettes with vital and enigmatic charm.  A magical iridescence of sound, this song is a perfect combination of jewellery box fascinator, modern day experimentation and best of breed pop, stamped with all the hallmarks of virtuoso musicianship and technique, finished off with high-end, precision production.

Speaking about the germination of the idea for ‘Appeals’, Bayonne explained: “‘Appeals‘ was one of the first songs I ever composed using a sample cut completely from an older song. The piano loop at the beginning was cut from a song that I recorded when I was about 17. I liked the way the piano sounded, so I wrote a whole new song around that loop.” 

Watch the wondrous visual to ‘Appeals’ and lose yourself in the scintillating energy of the musical stars with which Bayonne has lit up our nocturnal world.

Bayonne will play a series of live dates in October including London’s Shacklewell Arms on 20th and Bristol’s Simple Things on 22nd.  You can keep in check with more gig, music release and other news via his socials, details here:

Facebook  Twitter  Website  Instagram

Bayonne’s debut album ‘Primitives’ is due for release on November 4th via City Slang and can be pre-ordered here, ‘Primitives’ .  [You can also view the tracklist below.]

‘Primitives’ track list:

  1. Intro
  2. Appeals
  3. Spectrolite (video)
  4. Marim
  5. Waves
  6. Steps
  7. Lates
  8. Omar
  9. Living Room (Bonus Track)
  10. Hammond (Bonus Track)
  11. Sincere (Bonus Track)

Øyafestivalen – The Ones That Got Away

Foto Fabian Framdal Fjeldvik
Sløtface Foto Fabian Framdal Fjeldvik

In which rather than mourning my Øya losses, I celebrate the anticipation of seeing them play live at another point and place in time …

When you start attending music festivals you learn pretty quickly that no matter how many times or ways you twist and turn the programmes, it is physically impossible to make it to every live set or gig on your bucket list. Crossover schedules call for tough decisions, or failing that, some coin tossing whilst valiantly trying not to cheat when the chosen side lands facing down!

It was no different with this years Øyafestivalen club-night which played host to a rainbow of artists from across a vast and varied Nordic spectrum.  Rather then focussing on the fact that I missed out on several wanna-sees, I like to think of these as the ones that got away; bands who I can continue to pursue in the happy hope that I will one day get to see them play live.

The Øya club-night was possibly my most testing off-site festival challenge to-date, and if you have a look at the night’s programme you’ll understand the predicament in which I found myself.

Foto: Magnus Haaland
Lumikide Foto: Magnus Haaland

First off not only were the lovely Therese Aune and the super groovy newbies Lumikide, whose lustrous single ‘Golden’, is as radiant as its name denotes, pitched against each other, worse still they were pitted against the Øya delegate registration cum meet n’ greet. WHATTTT!

I longed to be transported into the fascinating landscapes of Aune’s imagination.  To be whisked up and away on a treadmill of ebony and ivory, blown along by the warm wind gently borne of harmonium bellows. Sighs.

Signed to Riot Factory and with a smorgasbord of creative soundscapes forming an impressive back catalogue, Therese Aune is one of the most understated and widely respected talents on the Norwegian scene.  It would have been neat to have found out if there were offerings a-new from Therese, especially as there was a rather quirky Soundcloud upload as recently as four months ago, entitled – ‘Sound Horn OK Please – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ (of Dylan Thomas fame) which you can listen to here.

Alas, it was not meant to be but, Therese, if you’re reading this, do please send word if you are due to release any new material!! My portal is always open and receptive to new tunes!

I also wanted to see what more those purveyors of aureate indie-jazz, Lumikide, had to offer in addition to the multi-dimensional wonder that is their latest single.

With a disarming vocal so warmly inviting it could have insta-thawed the ice age, ‘Golden‘ is a wonderwall of all that is good about that canny Norwegian trick of melding pop-jazz with indie.

Layers of evocative vocal with that intriguing plaintive edge so idiosyncratic of the Norwegian style, intense hazes of guitar chords, blurry and blingy synths and that wonderful, wonderful drumming of Axel Skjelstad, trained in the jazz style, but whose intuitive feel for exploratory percussion is quite exceptional.  ‘Golden’ is a meld of all of these succulent ingredients, poured together to create this most exquisite of elixirs.

I wanted to hear more of what this band were capable of and how they might sound outside the safety zone of the studio, but alas Oslo, it was not to be!

I set my gig alarm for 7pm.  Surely that would give me enough time to register, pick up my bits n bobs and whisk myself off to venue number one, map flapping in hand (actually it was more map sagging in hand as the weather on the night was just abysmal!).

Ok so where to start … well there was Sløtface in the immense Parkteatret at 7pm.

One of my favourite young bands of the Nowegian now, Sløtface produce slickly finished, sassy punk inspo’d sounds, with razor sharp lyrics laced with kick ass attitude. Their latest number ‘Take Me Dancing’, is their most mature offering to-date. A cheeky little flirt, it’s a catchy soundscape of twist n turn bass chords, rolling percussion and a segue of clean and fuzzy guitar opposites that sync with uncluttered ease.  Together they form an animated springboard for Haley Shea’s expressive vocals which in this instance are topped off with a deliciousness of angelic harmonies.

Sadly I have to be due north at the same time as their set finishes, so I make the strategic decision that as I have already seen these guys rock out live up at Trondheim Calling, I can live a bit longer on the memory, making a promise to keep them on the “must see again” list.  Bearing in mind that they will undoubtedly tour their forthcoming album in 2017, it’s a promise I am quite likely to keep!  For now, let Sløtface take you dancing around the virtual streets of Oslo.

Having settled on a hot date with Ludvig Moon meant that I also had to take a rain-check on Kildaphew – which didn’t impress me one bit!  However, there was some silver lining zipping around the edges of those dark and rainy Oslo overhangs in the form of a Kildaphewian appearance on stage with ARY, when one half of this fantastic pairing, Danielle Christine Brogden, sang backing vocals to Ms. Loinsworth’s live set.

Kildaphew Lene Johansen Photography
Kildaphew Lene Johansen Photography

Purveyors of experimental electro-rap dipped in funk and wrapped up in a Windies vibe, theirs is one of the most lush sounds you’ll hear this side of 21stC soul.  Danielle’s voice is pitch perfect chocca mocha velvet – sweet, rich, enticing, and moreish.  Their instrumental sound is a collection of cross-border flotsam and jetsam woven with such a delicate and masterly touch as to create a perfectly seamless blend.  Did I want to see them? Hell yeah.  Shame on you programme timing!

On the 100% must see list (a desire reinforced having witnessed Danielle’s brilliant vocal shadowing of ARY the following day), for now I’ll have to satiate my calypso-hip hop needs by hanging out on their Soundcloud page – check this beauty of a track out!

Internasjonalen beckoned with Chain Wallet and Hanne Kolstø in its illustrious line up.  All of which meant that as far as Siv Jakobsen, Pelicat, Sgrow, nrwy, Strangelove and The Hallway were concerned, it was take a ticket and wait for your number to be called (like a watched pot, at some point in a never boiling future!).

The Hallway, John Dee, Oya
The Hallway, John Dee, Oya

Mixing classical and techno backgrounds to produce musical purity of a quality that outclasses many of their peers, Sgrow is a band whose vocal and sonic expressiveness has the clarity of its Nordic roots, the experimental drive of personal inspirations and, the melodic warmth and curious compulsion of the futuristic driven techno age in which it exists.  Missing their set was possibly my biggest mistake of the night!

Luckily, I had the pleasure of meeting the Sgrow folks for a coffee a few days later, which made up in part, for my not seeing them live.  Although, given the fact that they have wrapped up their live set for the present time, it looks like it’ll be quite some wait before I eventually get to see them kill it on stage.  In the words of all the best musical stalkers … “I’m waiting”!  

The Hallway were a band I desperately wanted to see live, especially having heard their now internationally released EP, Vestad a few weeks prior to heading to Oslo. However, as I had been waiting to see La Kolstø since March, sadly, it was a non-runner on the night.  Theirs is my kinda sound, my kinda vibe.  Melodic indie rock with just the right amount of bite, classical snatches of string samples, a little flash of American grunge and a pleasing but ever so slightly terse vocal.

They’re a bit Green Day muddled with Smashing Pumpkins in an ice-capped Nordic kinda way.  Addictive, infectious, vibrant and on the poppy side of rock enough to appeal to the mainstream. The Hallway deserve only good things, and with sparkling creations like ‘I Used to Know’ they’ll probably get them!

So, you can see the challenges that faced me on the night.  To make things worse, all things Toothfairy were happening over at The Villa.  Having been told that the venue would be packed to capacity from early doors pretty much sealed their fate; I didn’t have the time to flit to a venue only to find I couldn’t get in and have to perform an instantaneous volte face to plan B.  Gone, in one fell swoop, Coucheron, Nils Noa(weeps!), Carl Louis and Baya.

My evening drew to a close as I walked in what could only be described as a deluge of rain towards Subscene and the Panda Panda live set, conscious as I was doing so, that I was walking away from opportunity of seeing Frances Wave. “OH cruel Fate, when wilt thou weary be?”

My club-night came to a close and as I walked the short distance back to my hotel through the late night misty murky Oslo streets, I despatched pointless regrets on the North Sea breeze, welcomed the light at the end of the tunnel of possibilities and gently hugged the anticipation of what was still to come.  Hope springs eternal.

Øyafestivalen supported by Music Norway, runs annually in Oslo, usually around the second week of August.  For full details check out the official website http://oyafestivalen.com/

Watch : Sykoya – ‘Closer’, An Inky Reverie

Photo Credit Hannah Couzens Photos
Photo Credit Hannah Couzens Photos

Made up of American, Anna Marcella (vox/piano/keys), and Brits, Curtis ElVidge (drums) and Joe Cross (bass/synth/vox), threepiece Sykoya, have just dropped a stunning visual for their spine-tingling single, ‘Closer.

Despite already having had UK airplay as well as having been featured by the likes of the BBC6 Music supported artist hub, Fresh on the Net, which is managed by the ubiquitous Tom Robinson, Sykoya, like the canniest of hibernators, decided to pull down the shutters and squirrel themselves away over the long, dark winter months, experimenting with, tweaking and refining songs that they knew had a special something, but with which they weren’t yet fully satisfied.

After endless hours and long nights of intense practising and recording, and having evolved a unique sound which they could identify with as the Sykoya USP or musical identifier, the trio were finally ready to debut their EP ‘Strange Night’, which I’m pleased to announce will be released this weekend.  Sat 21st to be exact!

Haunting, slightly menacing ‘Closer, is a melody driven track as dark and lonely as its shadowy night-time landscape.  Set in the twilit world of unrequited love and grasping desperation, this obsession fuelled nightmare is tinged with lonely regret and edged with a trace of eroticism.  Marcella’s intensely nuanced vocal, perfectly captures the brooding neediness and bleak torment of the song’s protagonist. Evoking emotional turmoil with a blend of sensuous ferocity and disturbing plaintiveness, Marcella’s voice elicits the sense of needy urgency and veiled menace around which the instrumental accompaniment builds a perfect soundscape.  ElVidge’s equable electronic drums and Cross’s doomsday bass fuse around otheworldly synth sequences to produce a portentous score to this soporific inky-hued reverie.

The accompanying video, which was shot in the beautiful snow draped mountains of Poland, is the handiwork of the exceptionally talented RO/SA video production company, run by Katarzyna Sawicka (direction/editing) and Adam Romanowski (photography/colour grading) who also came up with the storyline.  Such is the magnificent photographic splendour of this visual, it recently received a nomination for the Berlin Music Video Awards (would you believe the award ceremony is tonight – fingers crossed you guys!).

‘Closer’ is pretty heady stuff and as debut singles go, this is a strong card with which to lead.  If the rest of the EP measures up to the high standard set by this confidently delivered benchmark, Sykoya will be able to look back on those long, dark, wintry nights, and take comfort in the knowledge that all the hard work that went into revisiting, reworking and refining their music, was most definitely worth it.

Closer‘ is the lead track from Sykoya’s upcoming 5-track EP ‘Strange Night‘ due out 21st May!  The band are holding a release party at 7.30pm Sat 21st  The Finsbury Pub, Green Lanes, London – full details here https://www.facebook.com/events/1039339372798551/

Sykoya’s music is available via Bandcamp.

You can keep a track of SYKOYA’s musical exploits via FACEBOOKTWITTER, SOUNDCLOUD & their WEBSITE.

Introducing PluralBaby & Debut Album, ‘Bird Wandering Off’

Artwork by Matt Anstee
Artwork by Matt Anstee

Brighton based solo artist, PluralBaby, dropped his debut album ‘Bird Wandering Off’ today, and what a joy it is.

Initially recorded in his mother’s attic on a dusty piano, and, on a gallivanting Akai midi keyboard flitting between Sweden and England, the initial sounds were hibernated, only popping their heads back out into the light again earlier this year.

Happily, Englishman Aaron King, the man behind the PluralBaby project, hooked up with renowned musician/ songwriter, Otti Albietz, and together they fleshed out new, more intricate arrangements along with quirky edgy mixes,  that gave the album a more cohesive, textured quality.

Described by Aaron as an “experiment in recording and writing”, ‘PluralBaby’ is indicative of an artist with an intimate and often eccentric compositional and lyrical subtlety, which he supports with thoughtful and quirky musical soundscapes.

A full review of the album is due to be published on the Subba Cultcha website shortly.

Mastered at Spectre Studio by Troy Glessner, all songs were written by Aaron and produced by Albietz.

The Pluralbaby debut album ‘Bird Wandering Off’ is available now on Bandcamp.

You can follow Pluralbaby on Facebook.

 

News Feature : Nils Frahm & The Turn of the Screw

Photo by Claudia Goedke
Photo by Claudia Goedke

Another release of music by German wunderkind Nils Frahm has been announced by his label Erased Tapes – except this time, it comes with a twist.  Entitled ‘Screws Reworked’, it is an ingenious compilation of reworked Frahm tracks from the 2012 original album , BUT (and here’s the twist) they have been made by musician-fans.

The backstory to ‘Screws’ is by now pretty well known, but to recap in brief.

Frahm made the album ‘Screws’ whilst recovering from a broken thumb.  Inspired by friends and fans, to whom he had turned for ideas during the creative process, Frahm returned the favour by way of gifting the album as a free download. This in turn led to so many fans sending Frahm their own versions of the tracks that he publicly called out for submissions to be sent to him, from which he has now picked nine reworked pieces to make up ‘Screws Reworked’.

Tracklist
01. Nils Frahm – You (Bug Lover Remix)
02. Nils Frahm – Do (Databoy78 Rework)
03. Nils Frahm – Re (Helios Rework)
04. Nils Frahm – Mi (Soul Channel Rework)
05. Nils Frahm – Fa (Fred Yaddaden Rework)
06. Nils Frahm – Sol (Ruhe Rework)
07. Nils Frahm – La (Sebastian Freij Rework)
08. Nils Frahm – Si (Plasma Rüby Rework)
09. Nils Frahm – Me (Analogue Dear Rework)

In case you can’t wait another three weeks to hear this fascinating muso-fan homage to the great man himself, you can listen to it here via SoundCloud.

‘Screws Reworked’ will come bundled with the original album, and goes on release via Erased Tapes on 11th December, 2015.

Icelandic Electro-Whizz Futuregrapher Talks #EITT

Artwork & photography by Sig Vicious
Artwork & photography by Sig Vicious
Icelandic record label boss and electronic whizzKid, Árni Grétar, a.k.a. Futuregrapher, has just released a new album with piano boffin, Jón Ólafsson, of Icelandic musical group, Nýdönsk. Entitled ‘EITT’, meaning ‘One’, it is eight tracks of electro-classical-avant-garde sounds – ambient music filled with humanity, nature, life, and love.
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Before they hit rehearsals for the Iceland Airwaves Festival, Futuregrapher took time out to answer some questions about working with Jón, and the inspiration for, and background to, this electro-classical fusion.
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How did you and Jón come to collaborate?  
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We actually started talking to each other through Facebook messenger and eventually got around to talking about making music together. We have a huge respect for each others work and I could see right away that we could create good ambient avant-garde music together.
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Olaffsun and Future
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Who had the initial idea to make contact?
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A mutual friend had the idea actually. It was just a joke in the beginning, especially since we come from such very different backgrounds. But the more we chatted about it, the better it sounded, until we thought “well, why not?”
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Tell me about the recording process?
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We did one track at a time. Jón recorded the piano in his studio and sent it to me via email. I listened to it, and went into my studio and created my world around his piano sequences. So initially we worked separately but we came together near the end to listen to the whole album and mix it together.
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What do the song titles mean and why did you choose them?  What relevance do they have to the tracks in terms of theme and sound?
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1. Myndir = Pictures              5. Nærvera = The Presence
2. Gluggi = Window               6. Hringur = Ring
3. Börn = Children                  7. Brot = Violation
4. Sálmur = Psalm                   8. Vestur = West
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The song titles were chosen by Jón and myself after we had decided on the album cover, which is very minimal. Firstly, I came up with sentences that could work.  Then I worked with ideas and images that came into my head whilst listening to our songs. In the end Jón shortened them into one-word names. I thought they were brilliant.
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The album seems to have been inspired somewhat by nature and humanity?  How did the initial idea come to you and how did you guys decide to develop it?
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I would say the album takes a lot of its inspiration from nature and natural sounds.  I work a lot with field recordings using my Zoom H6 recorder and many of the found sounds that I recorded over 2014 and early 2015 are on the album.
The humanity comes from Jón, I would say. His feelings and his passion from the piano playing are so moving.
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There are a lot of background noises within the work.  Are they deliberately made sounds to fit the pieces, or, are they sounds of movement (previously used by the likes of Arnalds and Hollis in their work) that are in the recording because of your proximity to the mics, or indeed a combination of both?  What was the reasoning behind the sounds?
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I couldn’t say the sounds were deliberately made to fit the album, no. They’re more like recordings that I had already made that were a perfect fit for the album. Why I chose these background sounds and not some others, well that was all dependent on the mood I was in when I listened to Jóns piano playing.
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What synths did you use??
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I used Roland D-550, Roland JP-8080 and mainly a Yamaha DX7. The DX7 is my favourite synth.
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‘Börn’ is a particularly lovely track fusing the sounds of children laughing and playing in the background.
How does the music relate to the children?
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Both Jón and I are fathers so our music is definitely related to our own children.  Plus, I have two “jobs”: being a musician and working at a pre-school in Reykjavík.
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The overall sound is one that is very minimalist.  Were you never tempted to go large on the synth sound and embellish it with more of an electronic feel?  Did you find that you had to hold yourself back and let the piano almost take the lead as it were?
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 I would say I wanted it to be this minimalistic. Jón was the one who had to hold back! Haha. He is such a great pianist, he can do everything. Plus, I had just come back to recording after my last album called Skynvera – which was very chaotic. So I wanted to make a minimalistic album, and Jón wanted that too. It all worked out.
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Arni and Jon

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You’ve worked with Samaris – who are brilliant – and whose sound is described as trip hop.  Yet in many ways, the music they create is in its own way, just as pared back as the music on your current album.  Is this an approach that you favour – a muted, restrained, less is more approach?
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I know Samaris and their music very well. I wouldn’t describe our music as being  similar but I understand what you mean. Maybe it’s because on our album Eitt, the music gets to breathe. Kinda like Samaris’ music.

I see Jon previously collaborated with John Grant, who has accredited Iceland with saving his life.  Do you think the Nordic countries and Iceland in particular, are especially inspirational for artists and musicians and why?

Yeah, I can understand why John said that since I know parts of his story. Yes, I think that maybe Iceland has some kind of healing power. Not only from the nature, but also in the people. Some people in Iceland are very spiritual and open minded. And it’s such a tiny island, very far away from almost everything. The other Nordic countries also have some healing powers. Maybe not Denmark though (joke).

Iceland is fast becoming a hub for electro-classical work?  Why is it ,do you think, that Icelandic musicians, moreso than those from any other country, have a deep love and special talent for creating this type of music??
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I just think Iceland has a lot of talent in music and the arts for that matter.  It’s not just focussed in one genre. Electronic-classical works are being written here, for sure – but every genre for that matter. Almost. The creativity here is just good. The energy is high.
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Launch Night
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How do you propose to perform these tracks live? Will you keep it to a simple set up of piano, synth with the addition of a tape for the sounds?  Or would you consider taking the sounds to another level for live performances and adding say, strings?  Also what type of venue would you see as appropriate for your performances??
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We just had our record release show at the end of October and our set up is pretty basic; Jón is playing the grand piano and I have one synth, delay pedals, reverbs, monotron delay and computer running Live to play with my samples. Our launch show was at this wonderful museum – which acoustically and audience-wise worked very well.
We have also played at the Harpa Reykjavik concert hall, which also worked well for us. We will be playing Iceland Airwaves this coming week and then, after that, we will play a concert in a church. That should be very interesting. I think it will be great actually.  And no, sorry, we won’t be adding strings. Hmm. Maybe later. 🙂
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Jón Ólafsson & Futuregrapher play Iceland Airwaves this Saturday 7th November, details here.
Their album, ‘Eitt’ is available now via Moller Records, and Bandcamp.
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You can follow Futuregrapher on Facebook – here.
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All blogs posted to this site containing SoundCloud links are now automatically “transmitted by MOD-RUN technology and a carrier pigeon”, to  HYPE M  🙂