Spotlight!: J.K. Matthews

jk matthewsTime was that an artist would (understandably) try to make their mark on the world with their debut album. These days however things are a bit different. A first album is something that artists now build towards. It comes after building a buzz and a following with a series of singles and EPs. Now artists try and make their mark with their first EP, which can present much more of a challenge. Instead of summing up who you are, what you do, and what you’re capable of across a dozen tracks, they’re now forced to do the same with only a handful at their disposal.

This doesn’t seem to present an issue however for Canadian singer/songwriter J.K. Matthews. On his debut EP Youth he manages to encapsulate a broad scope of influences, to bottle his multifaceted talents into just a handful of songs. ‘Thick Skin’ and ‘The Blue’ are anthemic indie tracks, bubbling with positive energy and bright melodies. ‘Fool Outta Me’ is a heavy foot-stomping blues powerhouse, the lo-fi ‘Workman’s Blues’ has all the heart of classic country, while the nostalgia driven title track reels you in with its airy take on Americana. With Youth Matthews has succinctly summed up exactly why he’s one to watch. He’s shown that no matter what path he chooses to follow it can lead to something great.

Fans of City and Colour and John Mayer should check out J.K. Matthews debut EP Youth.

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Spotlight!: Jane Silver

jane silverThese days folk just seems synonymous with “acoustic”. Often all that links various folk acts is the use of a simplified, stripped-back arrangement. Not to say that’s a bad thing, we love modern folk, but at the same time it could be so much more. It could connect with its roots, in tales and tunes passed down through generations, or it could look forward and push the genre into more exploratory forms. Barcelona born singer-songwriter Jane Silver manages to do a bit of both on her debut EP Wooden Fortress.

The aptly titled ‘Medieval Song’ draws from deep-rooted English folk traditions and feels like an age-old song given new life. Meanwhile, ‘The More You Say It The Less I Believe It’ feels like a vision of folk from the future. Reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s third record, it takes a more progressive turn with its faint Eastern vibes and off kilter rhythms, but still manages to draw you in with some ethereal vocals and bright mandolin. ‘The Woman With Flowers’ and ‘Invisible Spiders’ (the latter being literally my worst nightmare) carry a mystical feel as though they’re long forgotten Grimm’s fairy tales put to song. The EP’s title track is the most upbeat and conventional track found here, which just makes it stand out and let its beauty radiate all the more. Aglow with childlike innocence and nostalgia, the imaginative lyricism is this release’s crowning glory.

Fans of Joni Mitchell, and the folky side of Led Zeppelin and Hozier, should check out Jane Silver’s new EP Wooden Fortress.

Spotlight!: LIILY

Liily.byRichieDavis2EPs are the weapon of choice for bands looking to put their name out there and make people sit up and pay attention, and for the ideal example of one done right look no further than I Can Fool Anybody in This Town. LIILY have not only made a real front-runner for our EP of the year, but it’s also one of the most convincing mission statements from a new band that you’re ever likely to hear. With their first EP this group of teenagers from LA have struck the perfect balance between passion and precision. It’s wild and fierce, yet never misses the mark, the musical equivalent of an apex predator.

You can hear them draw influence from all the right places, hints of Queens of the Stone Age in ‘The Weather’, a dash of ‘Royal Blood’ in the chorus of ‘Sold’, even a bit of Arcade Fire in the funky groove of ‘Sepulveda Basin’, but at the same time they manage to put their own stamp on it. What really makes LIILY stand out is the rhythm section. Sure, you have great riffs on the likes of ‘Toro’, but they don’t hog the spotlight as is the case with so many other bands in the scene. The drums very much take the lead on the EP’s title track, with some stunning fills on ‘Sold’ too, while the bass on ‘Nine’ is simply outstanding throughout. With this new release LIILY seem set to be one of the most exciting discoveries of 2019.

LIILY’s debut EP I Can Fool Anybody in This Town is out 8th March and is perfect for fans of Royal Blood, Foals and Nothing But Thieves.

Spotlight!: MAVICA

mavicaOne of the things that makes a good album is when it feels like a collection of songs that belong together. They each serve a purpose and come together to tell a story or take a snapshot of a certain space and time. It’s rare that you get this with EPs, they are usually just a few singles thrown together, which is one of the reasons that MAVICA’s debut EP stood out. Gone, while not expressly telling the story of the singer/songwriter moving to London from her hometown in Spain, does a great job at capturing the feeling of leaving your life behind. ‘Friethers’ is sure to resonate with anyone feeling lost and alone, and boasts the record’s most expressive percussion and synth work, while the melancholic guitar and wistful vocals of ‘Fire’ recalls a mix of Snail Mail and Isaac Gracie. ‘Plastic Heart’ is MAVICA’s most overtly pop affair with a fabulous hook that will stay with you all day, while ‘To Lie Alone’ is the record’s most complete package. Its soothing folk drifts by like a summer breeze, building to a powerful emotional climax, before settling back to where it began. It’s like watching the sunrise when the whole world is still, then having the day rush by in front of your eyes, only to watch the sun set again as the calm returns.

Fans of Ben Howard, Sufjan Stevens, Sophie Morgan and Billie Marten should check out MAVICA’s debut EP Gone

Spotlight!: Guns For Gold

guns for gold- duo shotAny music fan will tell you that nothing compares to the feeling of hearing a song that just stops you in your tracks. Being so enthralled by a piece of music that your only thought is “what is this and where can I find more?”. That was the process I went through upon hearing the debut single from New York duo Guns For Gold, and I get the feeling their debut EP will evoke the same reaction from many more people. Electronic producer Alex Siesse and singer/songwriter Wes Hutchinson may have once been a part of very different musical circles, but you would never have guessed so from the way that all the different elements fit together perfectly like the cogs of some grand golden machine. ‘Loaded’ lurks within an understated ambience and periodically bursts forth with its triumphant chorus, before disappearing back beneath the surface to leave calm waters once more. ‘So Natural’ offers up some great piano driven pop melodies, while mixing things up with some interesting percussion. And of course the slow-burning powerhouse that is ‘Unravelled‘, which found its way into our top songs of 2018, rounds out the record in style.

Fans of The National, Daughter and Manchester Orchestra should check out the eponymous debut EP from Guns For Gold out 1st March.

Spotlight!: Cathedral Bells

cathedral bells

Photo by Stephen Marva

One of the biggest draws of indie music is the DIY element of it. The fact that someone spent hours just experimenting with sound, embracing a creative drive to try new things, just completely absorbed by their own love of music. That same inquisitive and inventive side is self-evident within a matter of seconds when listening to the debut EP from Cathedral Bells. What is less obvious is the fact that what you are hearing is nearly all the work of one man. The playful bass line of ‘A Passing Phase’, the quirky throwback synths of ‘Homebody’, the airy haze of ‘Ethereal Shadow’, the brooding post punk vibes of ‘Memory Loss’. All of these tracks, which pull influences from across various decades into an amalgamation that’s entirely its own creation, they were all made at home, built up piece by piece. You don’t need to venture much further than the opening track ‘Cemetery Surf’ and the way it packs so much content into less than two minutes to see that Cathedral Bells is a project that pushes our expectations of what just one man can do. Blending dream pop, synthpop and post punk, this is a release that will tick plenty of boxes for indie fans looking for new music to get excited about.

Fans of The Cure, The War On Drugs, The Smiths and The Paper Kites should check out Cathedral Bells’ eponymous EP out 1st February.

Spotlight!: Cocoa Futures

cocoa futuresIn trying to be cool you just succeed in getting further away from it. Some of the coolest people I’ve met probably have no idea that they’re cool. It’s not about copying someone else’s example, it’s about soaking up their influence and doing it your way. It’s not about trying to tick boxes, you just need to be confident about doing your own thing. London’s Cocoa Futures do just that with their latest EP Recovery. There are plenty of elements within that capture the zeitgeist of the indie and pop scenes in recent years, but at no point does it feel forced or insincere in doing so. The effervescent bass line and punchy percussion of ‘Sink In The Water’ cuts through the otherwise downcast feel of the synth and vocals, like the one person content to stroll along and admire the city lights on a rainy night when everyone else is rushing around with their head down. The demented funk of the title track is reminiscent of St Vincent at her best and feels like a glimpse into an alternate reality where disco still rules supreme. Closing track Big Time starts with a stripped back indie pop feel before a slick solo cuts through the calm to end the record on a high.

Fans of James Vincent McMorrow, Rationale and St Vincent should check out Cocoa Futures’ new EP Recovery.

Spotlight!: Keeva

keevaI like fancy production and impressive musicianship as much as the next person, but they aren’t necessary to make a great song. One of the best measures of what makes a song great is whether it moves you, whether you can connect with it, and for that all you need is a message to share and to sing it out with all your heart. London based artist Keeva does just that with her debut EP. Carrying all the charm and soul of classic Motown, with all the excess stripped away to leave something more delicate and vulnerable, this wonderfully understated release is about as honest and authentic as they come. While most records are like oil paintings, building up layer by layer, this is more like a watercolour, needing only a tiny drop of colour to fill the blank space. From the sparse piano of ‘Pieces’, to the gentle fingerpicking of ‘How Do I Tell You’, the music provides the barest framework for Keeva’s soulful and sorrowful vocals. Her voice is one of the best you’ll hear in 2018, and it is given plenty of chance to shine. The EP carries a timeless feel, a break-up record for the ages, proving that sometimes less is more.

Fans of Isaac Gracie, Joni Mitchell and Amy Winehouse should check out Keeva’s debut EP Four Sad Songs and a Ballad

Spotlight!: Jessie Munro

jessie munroThey say that necessity is the mother of invention, but when it comes to music it often seems like heartbreak is the mother of creativity. That familiar torrent of hurt, anger and confusion has given rise to some of the most moving pieces of music over the years, and offered an intimate glimpse into the artists behind them. The mark of heartbreak is clearly felt on the debut EP from Canadian artist Jessie Munro. On My Own feels connected in a way that few EPs ever really manage, proving to be greater than the sum of its parts. ‘If Your Eyes Could Talk’ has hints of Lianne La Havas, while the vintage groove of ‘Under Fire’ offers an upbeat twist on heartache that reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. The simple but powerful riffs bring a real edge to ‘I’d Like To’, while the stripped back jazz intro of ‘Patiently I Wait’ soon gives way to an emphatic climax that ends the release on a high. What all these songs have in common is a clear focus on honest and meaningful lyricism, and the most wonderfully expressive and memorable bass you will hear all year. Jessie’s music is an enticing cocktail, mixing equal measures of the golden age of singer songwriters, classic soul and jazz, and contemporary R&B.

Fans of Lianna La Havas, Samm Henshaw and Arlissa should check out Jessie Munro’s devut EP On My Own

Spotlight!: Sophie Morgan

sophie morganHave you ever gone for a walk at sunset? You could be walking along the most unassuming path, strolling past scenery you’ve seen a million times and take for granted, yet by some trick of the light it feels like a whole new world. The trees and houses glimmer with golden light, the clouds awash with colour like some impressionist painting, and you’re greeted at every turn by a chorus of birdsong. I get that exact same feeling listening to Sophie Morgan. This Cheshire born singer/songwriter doesn’t carve out a new path, she follows the trails carved out by generations of artists before her, but does so in a way shines some fresh perspective on it and makes it feel as though you’re experiencing things again for the first time. ‘Sons & Daughters’ is the kind of track that runs through your head when you just take a moment to yourself to watch the world drift by, while the delicate and dreamy ‘Lemony Girl’ reminds me of Billie Marten. Her mature songwriting on tracks like ‘Above You’ is remarkable for an artist so early in their career, while the Nick Drake inspired ‘Black Dog’ shows Sophie at her very best, her angelic vocals rising at its climax to meet the elegant swell of strings.

Fans of Billie Marten, Jade Bird, Hannah Grace and Freya Ridings should check out Sophie’s new EP Sons & Daughters.