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

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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.

Spotlight!: Overjoyed

OverjoyedA short while ago I made myself a playlist of my favourite submissions I’ve received while running this blog. It was only after I finished and took a step back to admire it that I noticed something; there were more songs from Swedish acts than anywhere else in the world. Listening to the debut EP from Gothenburg based indie trio Overjoyed just further fuels the thought that there must be something in the water over there. A Look of Fear, a Lack of Feeling seems to just appear out of nowhere to steal the show as one of the finest indie releases of 2018. The bright riffs and exceptional bass on ‘Downer’ duck and weave around each other like they’re locked in some high stakes race, while the bittersweet ‘Taxi Driver’ feels like an energetic ode to The Cure. The piano balladry of ‘Love Me Louder’ offers a more sombre and stripped back feel, before launching straight into the upbeat and ephemeral ‘Lights’. ‘Sweetheart’ takes a darker approach with it’s menacing opening riff and ‘Skin’ builds from a sparse opening to a thunderous climax complete with raw, impassioned vocals and emphatic drums. Overjoyed’s brand of “sadpop” offers infectious melodies, deeper meanings, and above all the need to just have more of it in your life.

Fans of The Cure, Vampire Weekend, The Smiths and The Vaccines should check out their debut EP A Look of Fear, a Lack of Feeling out 3rd August

Spotlight!: Claire Coupland

claire couplandWe’re blessed to be living in the golden age of EPs. When they’re done right they have just as much sway over the listener as a full album, albeit condensed down into a potent little package. Quality always beats quantity, and there’s no shortage of quality to be found in the latest release from Toronto based artist Claire Coupland. Her new EP On The Other Side has, in just five tracks, surpassed most albums I’ve heard this year. Lead single ‘Bound For Love’ reminds me of ‘Unlike Any Other’ from Belwood favourite Foy Vance in its softer moments, but there’s a real momentum in the rhythm that pushes the song forwards and brings you along for the ride. ‘Love In Your Eyes’ offers some country vibes with its atmospheric steel guitar, Claire’s vocals steal the spotlight thanks to the sparse yet graceful arrangement of ‘Get Outta This Town’, while ‘This One’s For The Road’ boasts lush harmonies and a classic Americana feel. My personal highlight however would be the expressive bass tones and warm brass section of ‘Fleet Street’, reminding me in places musically of Dire Straits, and sounding like the perfect addition to any rainy day playlist. On The Other Side strikes me as one of the most memorable and consistent EPs of the year; a real delight, and one which I hope you’ll find a place in your heart for as I have.

Fans of Laura Marling, Joni Mitchell, Evening Darling and First Aid Kit should check out On The Other Side, out 27th July.

Spotlight!: NothingAboutME

nothingaboutmeYou’d be amazed how many electronic artists I end up turning away, citing that the genre is not my cup of tea. But no matter how rare, rules always have exceptions. London based duo NothingAboutME are the latest electronic act to have caught me off-guard with their debut EP Inertia. Around the airy vocals of ‘Bluebell’, the electronics and guitar effects ripple like the surface of a lake in slow motion, while ‘Summer’s Rain’ contrasts the sparse expansive verses with the droning guitar of the chorus to offer real light and shade. The title track boasts some understated bass lines and subtle R&B vibes in its electronic flourishes, placing as much emphasis on the notes the band doesn’t play as the ones that they do, and the tripped out ‘That’s for You’ is like the peaceful sound of life underwater in some secluded tropical lagoon. Sarah Stanton and Joe Dworniak walk a fine line between experimental and accessible with this release, bringing a vast range of influences to bear beneath the banner of Sarah’s crystalline vocals and Joe’s immaculate production. If this EP is enough to lure in a serial electronica doubter such as myself then you know it must be good!

NothingAboutME’s debut EP Inertia is out now and is a must for fans of James Blake, Behaving, Daughter and The XX.

Spotlight!: The Rareflowers

the rareflowers

Photo by HoJun Yu

The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all, and it was from the ashes of their former bands that the seeds of this new indie trio were sown. Hailing from New Jersey, The Rareflowers make a great first impression with their assured and eclectic eponymous EP. ‘Trip into the Sun’ uses hints of harmonica and some western style riffs to give an Americana-tinged twist on this melody rich indie track, while the EPs closing song ‘Shake‘ flits seamlessly between styles with the best of them. The combination of bright jangly 60s pop and funky bass tones makes the appropriately titled ‘June’ simply exude summery vibes with every note, while the airy soundscape of ‘New Generation’ is reminiscent in places of The War On Drugs. The Rareflowers have managed to cultivate a diverse sound while still maintaining their own clear identity, which is no mean feat. The band still have a lot of potential to grow, but this first EP shows a lot of promise and offers the firm foundation they need to be able to explore further.

Fans of The War On Drugs, Ryan Adams and Teenage Fanclub should check out The Rareflowers’ eponymous debut EP

 

Spotlight!: In The Cards

in the cards

Photo by PurpleYam Productions

Though there are elements of both sides at work within most bands, I generally find that most alternative rock acts either veer towards raw, visceral aggression or soaring, majestic melodies. If like me you tend to favour the latter, then the debut EP Eyes Beyond Reflection from Stoke-on-Trent quartet In The Cards is hands down the best example you’re going to find this year. These tracks carry enough ferocity to get that addictive adrenaline flowing, but they never let their passion get in the way of crafting great hooks and exploring more musically intricate passages. ‘Maze’ features a fittingly elaborate breakdown, while ‘Beautiful Silence’ shows the band’s fiery side with its driving rhythm. Lead single ‘The Only Thing’ offers some of the biggest hooks of the EP, while ‘Hollow Hearts’ showcases some fantastic musicianship with the gentle opening guitar and the wonderfully expressive and dramatic drums providing some of the most enticing instrumental work. It’s ‘Careful Eyes’ though that stands out as the highlight here. The true magic of Eyes Beyond Reflection lies in Amy Colclough’s soaring vocals, and it’s on this track that they’re at their most arresting. In The Cards have shown that they have plenty of tricks up their sleeves, and you’ll be sure to see this EP make an appearance in my end-of-year list.

Fans of Dream State, Mallory Knox, Greywind and 30 Seconds To Mars should check out In The Cards debut EP Eyes Beyond Reflection out now.

Spotlight!: IAKO

IAKOWith Venice being regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and having been a centre for art and culture for centuries, naturally it’s safe to assume that in growing up there some of that magic will rub off on you. Italian singer/songwriter Jacapo Rosetto, performing under his stage name IAKO, has released a collection of songs every bit as grand, elegant and impressive as the classical architecture of his native city. His debut EP Queen of Balance offers refined piano and soaring falsettos and stands out as one of the best EPs of the year. ‘Paint’ opens with a delicate folk sound akin to Bon Iver before expanding into a bittersweet choral sound, while ‘Bloodbath’ is all about the build as its mighty crescendo comes crashing down upon you. Vocally the title track bares some similarity to Sam Smith, ‘Stones’ carries a hint of vaudevillian drama, while the highlight ‘Vanishing Point’ takes a more upbeat approach, complete with some fantastic bass tones, that ends up reminding me a little of Five For Fighting. Showcasing a rich and varied array of musical talents, this debut release from IAKO offers a finely crafted and memorable first impression.

Fans of Bon Iver, Five For Fighting, James Vincent McMorrow and Rufus Wainwright should check out IAKO’s debut EP Queen of Balance.

Spotlight!: NeoRomantics

NeoromanticsOn paper I shouldn’t like NeoRomantics’ new EP, but in reality this quartet from Tulsa, Oklahoma have proven to be one of the biggest surprises of the year. Though it has plenty of roots in contemporary indie, Homecoming also draws a lot of influence from noughties emo. I missed that phase growing up, and as such the music has never held any power over me, I’ve never felt a connection with it. In NeoRomantics I have finally found some understanding. Any band can pull together all the things you like and make a song you’d enjoy, not many bands can make you see music you never liked before in a new light.

The dreamy intro of ‘Gold Plated’ eases you into the release as though you’re drifting in on the back of a cloud, before launching into vocals both melodic and passionate. ‘Concentrated’ injects some energy with its emphatic drums and anthemic chorus, while ‘From Ella’s’ shows great light and shade between the dark guitar and bass interplay and the bright infectious melodies. The aptly titled ‘Issues’ sees the band at their lyrical best as they channel a mix of teen angst and more adult introspection, before a cathartic climax rounds off the record. Expressive and eclectic, poignant and polished, NeoRomantics are ones to watch and may be future trendsetter material.

Emo kids looking for a fresh fix, or indie fans looking to spread their horizons, should check out NeoRomantics’ new EP Homecoming out now.