I don’t deliberately set out to be difficult but somehow, I usually end up causing trouble in one way or another. So, when tasked with picking a top ten of singles and EPs, released in the last month, I was determined not to stray from the brief. Sadly, despite best efforts to remain focused, I have once again deviated from beaten path, ten mutating into baker’s dozen, soul sold to the Devil, risking fate’s consequences with thirteen.
As usual, temptation broke my heart when eliminating the many I would have liked to squeeze into this....ahem... ‘size ten’, but even breathing in with trepidation, I think more squeezing of the flesh would have irrevocably burst the seams of a very patient editor, who puts up with my extravagances.
So here it is, my top ten and a bit, from the last month and a bit, the only conformity being alphabetical order , as I couldn’t bear to discriminate, each as beautiful as the other, in their own unique ways, love in the first degree:
Anna Lena & The Orchids- ‘Anna Lena & The Orchids’, EP
Capturing evocative atmosphere of Chris Isaak's 'Blue Hotel' with their guitars, Kate Bush's luminous imagination in their melodies, idiosyncrasies of Bjork in unexpected touches, twists, turns and emphatic accented vocal, haunted by hymn like cadences, Anna Lena & The Orchids conjure darkly brooding, gossamer ambience from ectoplasm.
'See It In Black' combines all these elements in mercurial, moody sensuality of rippling, resonant guitar, pulsating bass, throbbing palpitations of turbulent blood, and troubled, wistfully earnest, sacred canticle of crystalline vocal, harmonised by celestial choir; entreaties ringing through echoed mists, rent by chime of Eucharist bell; any sense of sentimentality torn asunder in perturbing shiver of metallic effects; a song which lilts and sways with mesmeric intensity.
'View Of My Sanity' floats in on same ethereal cloud, soporific, pensive hum pierced by lucid, translucent, pleading vocal, "... I wish I wasn't small...behind the men...tall...I cannot see at all... blocking the view of my sanity....", burbling undercurrent of niggling, rippling piano held in check by steady beat of bass and drums, building to billowing cloud, blowing across face of sun, receding to resigned regret; sanity lost in wolf filled woods, forever seeking light of day.
'Miss Audrie' and 'Six Wheels' similarly charm with their enticing innocence mixed with world wise wisdom, refusing to be tarnished, enraptured by life, empathy illuminating dark recesses of the human soul in heart-rending melody and imaginatively magical instrumentation.
A quartet of beautifully crafted, enthrallingly captivating songs; bitter sweet, diaphanous yet deep, infused with luminescent light of dark Nordic folkloric tales, flickering through supernatural night.
Candy Says- ‘Melt Into The Sun’, Single
Borrowing the name of a favourite Velvet Underground song, I was immediately drawn to this band, in the hope that they too brought same subversive attitude to their music. While this song doesn't directly evoke Underground's intense, spiky sedition; at times belying its subject, clothed in 'Candy Says' Velvet glove; their spirit flows in its undertow, catchy and sunny on surface, vortex of mercurial soul, swirling beneath.
Carried on wind of troubadour folk; nonchalant whistle, carefree, whimsical percussion, reflective, strolling 'squeezebox' organ, hollow beat of marching drum,; floats honeyed voice of petulant maiden, ".... stare at me so I can stare you out...in my heart of hearts I think I like you ....", twisting lyrical words and rhythms around, tossing them artfully into the air, to fall glittering, in disarming disarray. Sparkling with scintillating sounds, piano burbling beneath thudding drums misty haze, evoking atmosphere from captivating melody and extraordinarily evocative, poetic words ".... I chose a certain kind of life above that of words... so that I could find fear for the last time ...","... lovers screaming sunset evening turn turn turn ....watch us melt into the sun....", its lilting, sun infused voice, baited with pretty folk pop, seductive shimmer of deceptively placid lake, inexorable lures the unwary into unforeseen, unfathomable waters of the human psyche. An enchanting, seemingly innocuous little ditty, which turns out to be more than pop placebo, delving deeper into depths of perception, delivering its illuminating dose with sugar coated precision.
City Calm Down- 'Pleasure and Consequence', Single
Sweep of eighties Sci-fi synth, shivered with chilling thrill of electron winds, pulsed by radar of deep fathomless bass, plunged me into the sort of pleasure that ignores consequence, total abandonment an irresistible imperative. Combining all my guilty pleasures, deeply sensual, vibrating baritone quake, wallowing licentiously in sea of luscious electronica, synths majestic sweep of eighties melodrama, bass and drums indecent throb, guitar arrogant enticement, burbling with watery effects, this track immersed me in opulent revival of Ultravox era.
Siren to my electronic soul, beckoning me in with its melodic call, I cannot help but fall at its beguiling feet. These may not be new moves but still a hymn which moves me, brings ecstatic tears to my eyes; evocative kitsch invoked by modern means, voluptuously lascivious it feels like sin.
Harts- 'The Music', Single
Amalgamating driving disco beat with, effervescent eighties cheesy effects, strident progressive guitar , growling, sex on legs bass, kitchen sink of dance effects and Barry White deep to Bee Gees high vocal; cut up , shredded and mixed into full on looped, rhythmic cacophony, sucked though echo; this shouldn't work but it SO DOES!! At first I was afraid, I was petrified....even mystified....but now can't live without this single by my side; smitten I am, errant electronica gone wild; this one survived my favourite singles cull because, once I got over the shock, it really made me smile and irrepressibly moved my dancing feet. Taken from five song 'Offtime' EP, I am looking forward to more discombobulation, disco taken apart atom by atom, recombobulated into new thrilling order.
Nicole Atkins- 'Red Ropes', Single
A song which insinuates with provocative potency of its melody and delivery, bristling with tingling thrill, stalking like feline femme fatale in film noire, cabaret drawl curling from pouting red lips; 'Red Ropes', narcotises like intoxicating smoke, hot blood throbbing in veins; ephemeral ties which inextricably bind; entrapment by seductive stealth,. Bass creeping on velvet paws, tip toes round prickling effects, 'plucked' like sinister , staccato strings, tapping mysterious Morse code message into ether, drums tripping trepidatious heartbeat of fear, guitar spiking air with angst, as vocal glides, slipping in and out of bass's magnetic embrace, like elusive Mata Hari spy.
Nicole Atkins voice has an utterly intoxicating quality, smoothly alluring, with gothic, Nick Cave, inveigling edge of menace, enticing honey trap, soothing, swooping, weaving mystery, ensnaring with its slink of silk "...ties that bind don't come undone... as fast as you believe...", clamorous chant focusing dark forces to intense beam, brings you to your knees, " ...beg for forgiveness...", entangled in writhing instrumentation,".... vipers nest ...you can never leave...." A highly cinematic track; lyrically, musically and instrumentally, poetically beguiling, snake charmer's rope that hypnotises with its bewitching sway, country, gothic folk and sprinkling of magic, concocted into heady, mesmerising brew.In The Valley Below- 'Hymnal' EP
Heart quenching drench of beauteous sound, washed by caressing ebb of female and male vocal in sighing, wistful harmony, nebulous souls intertwined in hazy heat of fading summer breeze or glowering mists. As poignantly evocative of inner and outer landscapes, as Garrison Keillor's small town, prairie tales, songs infused with sense of place, the people it makes and ephemeral nature of existence; alluring, exuding seductive warmth, welling with empathy, torn by melancholy, a trio of tunes which envelop and embrace. from first spectral strains:
'Hymnal' wafts in like Red Indian smoke signal, echoed hymnal chant, click of shamanic sticks, conjuring spirit guide to soul of one much loved, known too little, now forever lost, reflectively recalled in sigh of rueful vocals, "...raven hair... aspen eyes...flicker...fire... wish I'd found you sooner...could have loved you longer....", wallowing languidly in deep sensuous pool of shimmering, luminous sound and effects, bass lured by siren susurration, wading in, deepest aqueous green, sorrowful droplets , piano rippling water as they fall, rent by anguish of guitar's inner scream; 'Hymnal' perfectly expresses with heartrending, tender candour, sense of interminable loss when a beautiful soul, not fully appreciated in life, forever departs this temporal mortal coil, eternally inhabiting inner worlds, achingly unreachable, "...this old sleepy town never knew you were around...now you're set in stone...do you know.....I'll live with you until I go...." 'Last Soul', more cinematically symphonic, illustrates how ' In the Valley Below' can weave illuminating tapestry of alluring, potent, opulent sound with both simple stitch and fuller plush of lushly integrated instrumentation. Vocal new age intense Indie, swaying in harmony, with subtlest intimation of Everything But The Girl, bass and drums throbbing ,ticking, hot blood in veins, coursing with pent up emotion of strings, swooping down slide whistle synth into church organ peals, musically breathtaking rollercoaster ride. 'Palm Tree Fire' vibrated by menacing pulse of bass, unexpectedly growls with electronic grit, burbling, tick-tock percussive sound effects disarrayed by syncopated beat, brash synth abrasive as stylophone, darker, ‘drugged’ vocal, somnolent tones in hypnotising mantra, "...how do you do it...to me....", hinting at Garbage and Ladytron; a long way, in sound, from what 'Hymnal' led me to expect, though retaining the dolorous soul which deliciously infuses this intriguing EP.
The Kill Van Kulls- 'Wooden Heart' , EP
Press release words of praise, such as '...unabashed pop... galvanizing melodies....strong hooks.... anthemic choruses ...' did invoke the fear, preparing me for predictable pap from a wooden heart.
However on listening, 'The Kill Van Kulls' are no tin men, warmly beating hearts displayed on highly melodic, musical sleeves. Captivating from first ticking bomb notes of echoed picked strings; beats of wooden heart; and fervently expressed introspection of expressive vocal, "....how many...people...play their lives like a handful of cards....", 'Wooden Heart' grabs attention with its well considered, clean lines; pulsating bass, stabbing staccato keyboard, guitar and syncopated drums , taking up the pulse, coursing blood through arteries and veins, bringing inanimate to throbbing life; blossoming in blooming of yes ,I will admit it, 'anthemic' warm glow, briefly diverted down Americanised mainstream heavy rock channel. Luckily, or more probably by artful intent, Kill Van Kulls do not get stuck in the pass, light skip of inventive instrumentation and effects emerging them eloquent on higher ridge which, together with soaring vocals, lifts them on the wings of eagles, to a higher plain.
'Somewhere in Time' forgives any transgression committed in previous track by prising open crack in Kill Van Kulls soul, arrow of light delving its deeper depths; beguiling, maudlin wistful vocal, in duet with melancholic piano; highlighting not only beautiful flexibility and nuances of the voice but also nakedly exposing musical structure, which stands just as melodically strong in simplicity as it does when washed by mists of echoed instrumentation and effects , trembled by booming drums though battle haze. Melodic enough to be 'pop', intense and intriguing enough to be 'indie', consuming enough to be 'anthemic' but, the word which springs most readily to mind is poignant; a disingenuous vulnerability which endears without overwhelming. 'Oceans' follows same tender line and though slightly more naive both melodically and lyrically, maybe even a bit twee , is given added excitation by frisson of eighties inspired synth electronica which burbling beneath previous songs, develops its own gritty voice , sand beneath ocean, which adds intriguing texture to its flow. 'Rule The Night' returns to wooden heart , tick tock glockenspiel lending nursery tale feel to woeful yet triumphant choirboy hymn, echoing through ether, buoyed up on cloud of, yes....'anthemic' sound. I must confess, I no longer have any idea what all these labels mean; what I can say about The Kill Van Kulls is, though melodically they are not that new, employing eternally captivating, catchy phrases, (is that 'pop'?) , they make them sound fresh, (is that 'indie'?); though each tune could be another verse in the same song , each is entirely engaging, making you want more of the same (is that grabbed by the 'hook'); they invoke exultation and elation ('anthemic'?).
In which case, the press release is entirely right and I humbly eat my words. Either way, definitely a sound for this summer, should the sun deign to arise.
Little Comets- 'Violence Out Tonight', Single
Softly creeping Indie with Reggae inflection, gruff guitars fuzzy growl, husky steely sweet, nicotine stained midnight cowboy stalking streets , restlessly treading and retracing steps in recycled, rotating riff, echo casting eerie moonlight glow, as vocal, touched with Finlay Quaye's emotive edge, drenched with compassion, soaked in hopeless grief, tells terrible tale of twisted depravity, pernicious poison which still infects humanity.
Lilting and swaying to disarming Ska beat, slashed with sliding spikes of prickling sound, glint of knives, sharp intakes of fearful breath, lugubrious bass gathering menace, startling clangs and clashes, crashing conflict; instrumentation, effects and vocal bristling in counterpoint, setting hairs on edge, electrifying night air, tension stretched tight, like meniscus of bubble about to be pricked ; Little Comets enunciate with articulate candour, both musically and lyrically dark truths difficult to bear, violence callously, casually inflicted with nonchalant whistle and smiling face ,"... moonlight hides his treason...", writhing with hopeless pain at society's failure to protect, bluntly forthright, "...poor conviction rate for rape... can leave a woman feeling more at blame... than able to talk about violence tonight...."
Despite harrowing lyrics, totally beguiling, refreshingly acute, Little Comets music glimmers and glistens, like looking through crystal lens, clearly focused, with clarity , compassion and in this case, bravery, on twisted face of mankind, caught full beam, in despicable acts of unendurable desecration. Little Comets demonstrate the power of music to shine a light where mere words might not dare to go.
Olympian- 'Back To The Great Lakes', Single
In one of those ordinarily strange twists of coincidental fate, I found myself floating on translucently lucid , gorgeously lapping waters of Olympian's 'Back To The Great Lakes', having just a taken dip in equally ethereal waters of John Smith's new E.P. 'Great Lakes'.
Having been kicked out of youthful swimming lessons, for pushing fully clothed , loathed instructress into chlorinated murk, I have since feared potential inadvertent immersion, but these are two shining pools I could wallow in forever, wading in deep, surrendering myself to quick silver ripples of these two Northern boys. With almost classical instrumentation, Olympian's sparkling, bitter sweet, minor resolving to optimistic belief, evocation of glittering, placid waters and clear blue skies, is swept with eloquently poignant strings, plucking crystalline tears, sprinkled with glimmering twinkles, tremulous tickle of bottom of heart guitar undulated by swell of billowing piano, thrilled by beat of deepest droplet bass, throbbing with fearful expectation ; over which gently blows, spine tingling, prickling whisper of temperate wind, balm of hope flowing in syrup of Orbison baritone vocal, laden with compassion, caressing, washing away pain, lending courage to start again"...get up...you don't have to do this anymore...let sorrow come...watch sorrow leave..."
Melodically entrancing, modestly understated, yet perfectly constructed, entirely enthralling slip of a tune which flows like golden honey. Watch out for the EP from which this is taken, released this month.
Sam Lee- 'Goodbye My Darling', Single
Static of interference, from other dimensions, vibrated from ether by plucked ukulele banter, harp insistently humming like bowed single string, root note to ancient folk song raga that Sam Lee weaves around its magnetising pole. 'Goodbye My Darling' travels back to an enigmatic, English era of Elfin magic, wizards and spells, forest mists evoking sprites, wistful maidens wrapped in dawn dew, dreaming of their hero true.
An Angel Clare of tumbling curls, Sam Lee's empathetic, captivating vocals and rural burr evocatively materialise Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles pastoral landscapes, rising from morning haze, raggle taggle travelling band burning away dank night, with trickling river of plucked strings, sweep of passionate fiddle , lollop of carefree bass, frisson of harp dissension under solid march of drums; musically luminous, lyrically illuminating, an enthralling story of love, loss, servitude and dispossession, ever enduring, ever engaging, spine tingling reconnaissance with spirits of our English past; Fairport without need for bells and whistles , just as individually intense, singing of a past which resonates powerfully through fabric of our current being, penetrating to inner core.
Soul Saboteur- ‘Clip Your Wings’, EP
Sucked in by bellows wind, building crescendo from chapel organ pipes, intrigue clipped by churn of choppy opening guitar riffs, my ears were initially blocked by totally irrational prejudice against an undercurrent of Americanised rock ; which, apart from extended enforced exposure to Oklahoma, the musical, while force fed pumpkin mash topped with charred marshmallows, I have never been able to trace to its traumatised roots; but then, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I found myself swept up on swoop of vocal tornado; once let fly, saboteur stealthily stole my soul with impassioned ebb and flow of its title song, ‘Clip Your Wings’ ; deep dusky bass, shaking leonine head, captured my heart with its warmth, jazzily precise drums charmed with lightest, tickling touch, guitars mutated into virtuoso Dire Straits and vocals entirely enraptured with elastic eloquence; rising, falling, hankering, hollering; breathtaking, heartrending rollercoaster ride, intoxicating mixture of Sacha Distel, Bruce Springsteen and David Gray, ripple of country piano failing to revive my initial reticence; by then, forget stars and stripes, I was totally smitten.
Having been bitten, I willingly welcomed ‘Medicinal Venom’, into my bloodstream, drinking deep of sultry bass, transformed, riding on wings of solo vocal gliding to stratospheric heights, enraptured by heady passion, bewitched by medicine man’s virtuosic guitar , twisting, turning, Catherine Wheel shriek, swirling into, ‘Dark After Dark’, wrapped in cover of velvet night, welcomed by acoustic guitar, impassioned ballad, vocal in freefall; swooping, weaving, intimately, eloquently intertwined in heaving harmony with instrumentation; guitar and piano its guiding, twinkling stars, bass its deep, flowing river, drums its reflective heart ; touched by hint of dissonance, Pretenders meet Bowie via Dire Straits, glorious melodies unexpectedly subverted, diverted by delicious sevenths, link to unexpected musical explorations, even unto satanic, rockier depths, ‘Stranded (in the devil’s council)’; which though most rock orientated; punchy bass riding eternally alluring riffs, guitar progressively writhing, vocal seething; is still brushed with ethereal touch of Rush and Led Zep, taking it to deeper place, part progressive, part hard rock, sabotaged by Saboteur’s , metamorphosed into their own unique sound.
Soul Saboteur, wings unclipped, disarmed my disbelief, flying me down yellow brick road to Emerald City.
Tears for Annie- 'Purple Heart', EP
Combining Siouxsie Sioux's decadent discordant harmonies and angular rhythmic stance, Kate Bush cavorting with her Creatures, and sibilant vocal, lisping, leaping with Toyah Wilcox's petulant perversity, this art house gothic punk artefact has arresting attitude and style.
Triptych conceived from tortured womb, dark shades pervade, twisted figures writhe , looming from shadows ;'So John' with its grounded Budgie beat, gritty guitars, grinds chain smoked cigarette butts into night of vocal despair, 'can you hear me?'; nursery tale nightmares , malevolent sprites tinkling in glint of glockenspiel, hand that turbulently rocks the cradle; lilting into traipse of 'You and Whose Army', marching to a rockier beat, rousing insurrection, more meandering, not as individual but brushed with same desolate shades, still seductive; shining path of light on most engaging piece, lyrically and musically enticing, 'Out of Patience', insistently banging drum of impatience, Kate Bush inhabited by spirit of Siouxsie in hiccough of vocal, crashing instrumentation meshed by echoed battle mists, guitar wielded like pointed gun, strident eighties synth, trumpet reveille to those who have waited long enough. A revelatory revolution, Purple Heart pricking blood from lacerated soul.
The Lost Souls Club – ‘High Noon’, EP
With deep, grimy, throbbing bass, stabbing, staccato, gritty guitar, hard hitting, rolling like Adam Ant, tribal drums, and Costello New Wave, Punk attitude, I joined this club from first tempestuous notes.
‘Romeo’ swaggers with butch, muscle bound bass, bristles with Brill Creamed sneer of vocals, strutting guitars contemptuous curl of lip, dramatic drums emphatically stomping, imperious foot. Untiringly vigorous, gloriously vital, shredding air with bayonet assault of punchy instrumentation, in counterpoint with precisely enunciated, rhythmic vocal “...there’s this lady who visits my house... I guess I could just get her kicked out...”, surfing turbulent waters of heavy, repeated, sublimely mesmeric bass riff; impossible not to get taken in by Romeo’s audacious, yet charming arrogance , carried along on foaming crest of new ‘New Wave’.
‘Kiss Away The Sun’, just as intense, glowers, plunges fearlessly into dark shadows of highly melodic, fervent rock, throbbing bass and drums, agonised guitar and vehement vocal locked in menacing mantra, billowing clouds, shutting out light, twisting heartstrings. ‘Shoot Me Down’, writhes with heavy hitting, high energy Zeppelin allure, deliciously dirtied up with sordid effects, rapaciously rolling drums, deleterious, dangerous bass, inveigling growl of guitar and impassioned vocal in satanic sway, shredded by sharp interjection of eighties synth; oozing seduction, I fell at its feet, without need for gun. 'We Are All Gonna Die Anyway’ rock, rollicks and rolls down same provocatively irresistible path, while sun sets on ‘High Noon’, with sliding steel guitar of ‘I Know I Spoke Too Soon’, shimmying into red flame of bass haze, swaggering towards distant horizon, swaying on lyrical lilt of sensuous vocal and slither of snakelike guitar, scintillating like mirage, screaming like hurt, drums heavy, regretful feet, “...reminds me, I won’t be here soon....broken all my promises... killed all love...drowned out every voice... never learnt to trust...I won’t be here soon...”; drowned in chagrin, rent with rueful remorse, cowboy’s last lament , lost soul shimmering off this mortal coil, another tantalising side to this extraordinarily entrancing band.
Reviews by Miss Chumki Banerjee (ready to be admonished)