It seems odd to think that we’re only now writing about Natalie Shay’s debut EP. Ever since we covered her stunning single ‘This Feeling’ back in 2018 she’s been part of the furniture here on the blog, an unquestioned Belwood favourite right from the off. With just a handful of singles to her name she’s not only won us over, but has also become one of the UK’s most sensational rising stars. With each new release she has generated major buzz in the indie pop world, added to her ever growing legion of fans, and has also grown ever more assured as a songwriter and performer. Her previous releases have seen her sound grow and change, only to finally bloom on Naked as a glorious fusion of nostalgic day-glo 80s vibes and effervescent indie pop energy.
Shimmering synths, bright melodies and irresistibly danceable grooves are the order of the day here, and the infectious carefree spirit that pervades the record knows no bounds. ‘Not The Girl’ and ‘People Like Me’ boast manic wailing guitar solos, the title track ‘Naked’ has a delightful dash of retro sax, and the new stripped back version of ‘Yesterday’ adds so much depth to the track. Beneath the buoyant enthusiasm of the music however lies lyricism that details how messy and uncertain relationships can be; all the fear, temptation and conflict. The end result is a bittersweet record that feels, in more ways than one, like a John Hughes film – defiantly fun and uplifting in the face of unresolved struggles and emptiness. For most artists a debut EP is a shaky first step into the wider world, but for Natalie Shay it feels like a culmination of everything she’s worked hard to build, and a promise that this is still only the beginning.
Fans of Fickle Friends, Clean Cut Kid and 80s pop should check out Natalie’s Naked EP
A lot changes in a year. We take it in our stride as we’re so focused on the day to day, but if you really think about it you can look at your life from one season to the next and the contrast can be so stark that it’s almost like different people living in different worlds. The summers so lush and full of life that we welcome their warmth with open arms, cast our worries aside, and jam to music that’s bright and boisterous; the winters stark, sombre and unforgiving so that we retreat inside to escape the cold, and our thoughts too turn inward as we cling to music that is quiet and introspective. Each season a disparate chapter of a long and winding story, each passing year holding something new and leaving its mark on you.
Swedish singer/songwriter Simon Alexander embodies this idea in his new EP In The Rust. Lyrically the release often reflects on the passage of time, taking a nostalgic look back at years gone by through rose tinted glasses, and apprehensively pondering what fresh changes and challenges the years ahead have in store. Musically the four songs contained here are as rich and varied as the seasons. ‘Move Steady’ is an uplifting indie anthem packed to the brim with bright melodies, and the title track delights with its rustic folk arrangement and gorgeous harmonies. The smooth and joyous rhythm & blues of ‘Good Friends’ is just what the doctor ordered to banish the winter blues, and the soulful slow-burning closing track ‘Rain’ has some sublime guitar work and showcases Simon’s vocals at their very best. These four tracks really show just how wide-ranging his talents are, and I look forward to hearing what fresh delights he has in store further down the line.
Fans of Hozier, Gavin James, Ben Howard and Wilder Mind era Mumford & Sons should check out Simon’s new EP In The Rust out now.
When reviewing new music I try to avoid comparisons where possible. Partly as it feels lazy, and partly because it can sometimes feel disrespectful to an artist’s hard work by condensing it down into something so simple. Sometimes it’s unavoidable however, it’s the great big musical elephant in the room. So when I say that London based artist Ollie Trevers is the most compelling candidate for a spiritual successor to Jeff Buckley that I have perhaps ever heard, understand it is a high honour for me to bestow. Grace is one of the finest albums ever made, and I hear so much of what made me fall in love with it in Ollie’s work.
His vocals have such astonishing versatility, turning on a sixpence from the soft caress of gossamer upon your skin to the howling wind in a summer storm. Like the superb light and shade in ‘Can’t Make It Up’ between the gentle verses and fierce chorus. Imperfections are often far more enrapturing that the pursuit of perfection, and the passionate voice break in the final chorus as he gives his all to the song is such a brilliant moment. I love the scope of his ambitions and the range of influences that he draws from. Tracks like ‘Stage Of Fools’ and ‘I Need Someone’ bear the mark of everything from folk, soul and blues, to prog and alt rock. I admire his ability to draw light from where there seemingly is none on ‘Lost Alone’, how the dark lyricism about pain, heartbreak and isolation can give rise to the most uplifting melodies on the record and have them feel perfectly at home. If he keeps all this up then maybe one day he’ll be the kind of artist that others hope one day to be compared to.
Fans of Haunt The Woods, Nothing But Thieves and, funnily enough, Jeff Buckley, should check out Ollie’s new EP Cordelia
In today’s music industry EPs are more important than ever. They have usurped the role of debut albums as a way for artists to make a good first impression, with some acts building up a massive following on the back of just a few EPs alone. At the same time however they are never given the respect they deserve. I’m a big believer in quality over quantity. Much like how a great actor can say more with just an expression than others can with pages of dialogue, an artist pouring their heart and soul into just a couple of tracks often makes a greater impact than most albums.
With her debut EP On The Run, Belgian born singer/songwriter Margo Raats hammers the point home with a handful of songs that are altogether more moving than perhaps any album I’ve heard this year. ‘Fly’ is as uplifting as its name suggests with its message of reassurance and comfort, while ‘Wondering Why’ wins you over with it’s off-kilter arrangement and bright folk melodies. It’s in the stripped back soul of ‘What Is It Like’ and ‘Remember Me’ that Margo really shines however. The sparse arrangements ensure that Margo’s gorgeous vocals take centre stage. It takes great skill to be so passionate and expressive, but it takes even greater courage to be so open and vulnerable for the world to hear.
Fans of Hannah Grace, Lucy Rose, Gabrielle Aplin and Freya Ridings should check out Margo’s debut EP On The Run.
More new music gets released in this day and age than at any other point in history. While in decades gone by the key to getting noticed was to latch on to a trend and ride the wave of popularity, these days you’re often far more likely to simply get lost in the crowd. Why carry on down the same road as everyone else when you can take the path less travelled and lead your listener to something different. While Fidelity Freak don’t venture deep into the wilderness, you can find them operating at an unfamiliar crossroads between otherwise familiar styles. At the nexus of dancefloor ready funk, the warm glow of classic soul, and light and airy indie melodies, you’ll find their eponymous debut EP. The resulting blend of positive vibes is a refreshing twist on the modern indie sound.
‘Illusion’ starts proceedings in fine form with an irrepressibly infectious groove that channels the likes of Chic, before flowing into a dreamy chorus. ‘Losing My Mind’ takes the band’s dreamy side a step further, dealing in the kind of sun-drenched soulful glow that makes you want to just lie back and forget about the world. That is, before ‘Nightmare’ drops you back in at the deep end. This funky firebrand of a number takes a scathing look at the state of modern politics and wraps the band’s ire in an engaging and accessible package. Closing track, and EP highlight, ‘I’m Gone’ shines in spite of it stripping away a lot of the soulful sheen found elsewhere on the record. With its simple yet striking chorus and the beautiful slow-building breakdown, it shows that even without their fresh fusion of styles they still have what it takes to stand out from the crowd.
Fans of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paolo Nutini, Mac DeMarco and Local Natives should check out Fidelity Freak’s eponymous debut EP.
Music is about more than just the notes you play. Sometimes music is as much about the notes that you don’t play. It works in much the same way that it does in film. How a moment of silence can build tension or drama, or draw you in to focus attentively on a specific scene. There have been plenty of great show-stealing vocal performances this year, but none are offered up as confidently as those found on Winnie Raeder’s debut EP From Here. The record plays out like a movie scene, an emotional climax wherein this leading lady bares her soul and ensures that you’re invested in her story.
From Here‘s bare bones arrangements pull off the all too rare feat of making it feel as though the whole world falls still to listen with you. Musically each track forms a simple frame of soft acoustic guitar and delicate piano, at the centre of which lies Winnie’s transcendent vocals. From the soulful pleas of ‘Don’t You Dare’ and the electronic tinged harmonies of ‘Still’, to the powerful chorus of ‘I Wear A Ghost’ and the endlessly heartbreaking ‘Are You Waiting?’ with its calls of “is heaven half as beautiful as you?”. This Danish born singer/songwriter has a one in a million voice. Winnie’s take on heartbreak is as articulate as it is passionate, a true display of an artist pouring their very soul into their work.
Winnie’s debut EP From Here is out now and is perfect for fans of Sampha, Joni Mitchell and the softer side of Jeff Buckley.
Different forms of media are better suited at evoking certain emotions. Sometimes a particular indescribable sensation arises that is almost complete unique to a specific art form. Cinema has an uncanny way of capturing these obscure emotions that we can’t quite put our fingers on, one of which is the melding of bliss and sorrow. Moments that break you and bring a tear to your eye every time, yet also so beautiful and fulfilling that it keeps bringing you back for more. Pixar are the masters at this; like saying goodbye to fading friends in Inside Out, or the remembering of lost loved ones at the end of Coco. Though it’s a phenomenon best suited to cinema, there are some rare moments where music alone can capture the same feeling, and few examples come closer than White Seasons.
Though the new EP from LA based duo Night Market is drenched in heartwarming melodies, there’s an underlying sadness that surreptitiously seeps its way through like subliminal messaging. Listening to this EP is like remembering the good times you had with someone that’s no longer a part of your life, finding joy in the sadness and sadness in the joy. A big part of its power lies in the guitar work, which is some of the finest you’ll find this year. Not by being flashy or complex, but by just hitting the right tone that resonates with you deep down. Whether its in the lush Americana of the title track, the bright folk of ‘All Eyes’, or the jaunty ‘Rome’ with its bluesy solo, Night Market really know how to strike a chord with you with this latest release.
Fans of Death Cab for Cutie, Wild Pink and Sufjan Stevens should check out Night Market’s new EP White Seasons, out now.
Sometimes the greatest artistic endeavours can come from self restraint. Instead of endless ambition where anything goes, rather challenge yourself by setting boundaries and push them to their absolute limit. That’s the impression I take away from Parasols, the debut EP from Germany’s Floral Shop. As charming as the synthpop aesthetic is, it doesn’t leave much scope to experiment. That hasn’t stopped this quartet from tackling the idea as well as, if not better, than any other examples I’ve heard. They have their own unique way of reaching outside their stylistic circle for inspiration without fully stepping over the threshold.
The eerie introduction to opening track ‘Out of Touch’ soon gives way to reveal this release’s secret weapon; the most groovy and expressive bass you will hear all year. It underpins the whole EP but is at its most potent and prominent right here. ‘Around’ stands out thanks to it’s bright riffs which manage to cut through the synths without losing their light and airy feel, contrasted sharply by the downcast tone of ‘Float’ accentuated by its skittering electronic beat and sombre vocals. There are hints of In Rainbows in ‘ISO’, but it;s closing track ‘Anyplace’ that truly steals the show. The spiralling synths, electronic beats and droning guitar feel like you’re aimlessly whirling through space, before the purposeful post punk rhythm section shifts into focus to deliver a powerful climax.
Fans of Tame Impala, Gunship, M83 and modern day Muse should check out Floral Shop’s debut EP Parasols out 7th June
Time 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.
These 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.