Top Tracks: Kate Brewer – Screen of Doubt

We may have stepped across the threshold into a new year, but safe to say it doesn’t feel like the fresh start many of us were hoping for. The pandemic still drags its feet, and all those compromises, missed opportunities and days spent hoping for light at the end of the tunnel have taken their toll. With ‘Screen of Doubt’, singer/songwriter Kate Brewer addresses the part of our lives that has come under the most strain: the connections with those we care about. As the track details the exasperating sense of distance and disconnect that comes with talking through video chats and making plans that centre on the idea of “one day”, it would have been easy for ‘Screen of Doubt’ to be a mere reflection of grim reality. Instead the track offers a more hopeful perspective; thanks in no small part to the simply exquisite saxophone and vocals reminiscent of Carole King. How thinking of the details lost when not talking in person leads you to cherish the little things you take for granted – the sparkle in the eyes when they smile, the echo of their laughter. How “making plans for when the world is the world again” keeps the hope alive by reminding us that there’s something to hold on for.

Top Tracks: Steve Rondo – Afternoon Rebellion

It’s startling to think that we’re just a few months away from 2022 when most of us are still trying to process 2020. The days just seem to race by like grains of sand slipping between your fingers, and with each passing year seem to flow faster and faster. But by the time you realise just how caught you are within the relentless swirl of the hourglass, it’s already too late. With his new single ‘Afternoon Rebellion’, Boston based songwriter and producer Steve Rondo shares the fear and frustration that comes with wanting to stay awhile longer in each fleeting moment. It’s something that effects us all eventually, and is a phenomenon that has left its mark on many songs over the years, but on this track Steve really captures the anxiety that comes with looking too hard in either direction. Looking forward you realise all those dreary days spent wishing for the weekend have finally caught up with you. All those lingering fears of what the future holds that you pushed aside, those bridges that you left to cross some other day, those milestones that seemed like some distant dream – all now loom large and unavoidable in the path ahead of you. Looking back you catch a glimpse of each cherished memory, before it too falls from your grasp to become just another grain buried by all the days wasted, much as the song’s haunting delicate folk intro becomes eclipsed by the ever-growing arrangement to leave you lost in something both grand and bittersweet.

Top Tracks: mehro – howling

A lone wolf will howl up at the moon, its cries carrying for miles across dense forests, mountain peaks and frigid open tundra, in the hope of reaching those it cares about. Their bonds are so strong that distance doesn’t matter; when they need each other they will call out. It’s a beautiful notion, and one that we could stand to learn from, as when we feel at our most alone is usually when we fall quiet. There’s no calling out into the night, often not even a quick message, instead opting to suffer in silence. With his new single, mehro offers a glimpse into that sense of isolation. The restless nights, the tempestuous thoughts, the feeling of missing someone so much that you’re left treading water with no respite in sight. And yet, as everything comes crumbling down and your head sinks beneath the surface, you still can’t find the strength to say “I need you”. With its soft wistful folk arrangement, cold subtle electronics, and mehro’s own plaintive cries harmonising with haunting wolf howls, this stunning single offers some comfort in knowing we’re not alone in feeling alone.

Top Tracks: Rett Madison – Skeptic’s Angels

No one is born bitter and jaded. When we first experience the world we do so with a steadfast sense of wonder. We see the best in ourselves and others, refuse to be divided down arbitrary lines, find joy in even the smallest things, and live our lives believing that anything is possible. And yet, little by little, the innocence and optimism in all of us gets eroded. Often the cracks form so slowly that you don’t even realise it, until one day your inner cynic becomes the dominant voice – you begin to see the worst in everything, and ultimately ask yourself “When did I first take for granted, Another sunset on this twisted planet?“. It’s as inevitable as the rising tide, but that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to it without a fight. With the soulful ‘Skeptic’s Angels’, singer/songwriter Rett Madison offers a poignant moment of mourning for her own faith and innocence lost and asks the question “is it too late to believe?“. Taken from her debut album Pin-up Daddy, it’s another fine example of the fine balance between fire and fragility that is walked by her astonishing vocals. For many of us it gets harder with every passing day to believe in something greater and have faith in the good in others, but sometimes we all need to take a leap of faith to keep the light shining just a little longer.

Top Tracks: The Greatest Endangered Thing – Bramble Lane

There are plenty of wonderfully emotive songs out there which perfectly capture a feeling, like joy, or love, or heartbreak, and lots of tracks that evoke a certain point in time, expressing the mood of certain seasons or reminiscent of past decades. But one less heard and underappreciated facets of songwriting that holds a place in my heart is the kind of song that manages to embody the spirit and character of a certain place. Music that echoes the symphony of nature, lyrics that can vividly describe a stunning vista, songs which offer an escape by whisking you away someplace else. The latest single from The Greatest Endangered Thing is perhaps the finest example I’ve heard all year. Paired beautifully with some stunning cinematography from filmmaker Brett Chapman, ‘Bramble Lane’ plays as an evocative love letter to the Peak District. There’s a haunting mystique that conjures up the feel of misty moorlands and dark gnarled woods; ancient and unchanging like something from a long forgotten legend. Yet there’s also an air of romanticism that calls to mind the morning sun rising over heather-clad hills, that evokes birdsong and bright clear skies, and brings with it that same sense of freedom and sanctuary that comes with being off the beaten path.

Top Tracks: Ren Lawton – Love By Night

Often, despite our best intentions, life just gets in the way of the things we care about. We get so caught up in the day to day that we end up losing touch with people we hold dear, we get so wrapped up in hectic schedules that we don’t find the time to say what we’re really feeling. But then there are those rare occasions where we’re lucky enough to meet someone that inspires the opposite. A love so strong that you reach a point where the rest of the world is of no consequence, so long as you have each other. It doesn’t matter what anyone says or does to come between you, nor will you let any complication or expectations stand in the way. With a love like that you’d let the whole world fall to rust and ruin just for a few stolen moments together under the starlight. Such a tale of love and sacrifice lies at the heart of the latest single from Belwood favourite Ren Lawton. The first single from his upcoming debut album, the touching folk balladry of ‘Love By Night‘ speaks of a love that wins out against all the odds and in spite of all opposition, and offers a welcome reminder that beautiful things can still bloom in adversity.

Top Tracks: Natalie Shay – New Wave

I remember once reading a great quote that said that we fall in love the same way we fall asleep – slowly, and then all at once. Both offer a tantalising tingle of what’s to come as they gradually wear down your defences, but at some point, without you even realising it, the dam breaks and it all just washes over you and sweeps you away. Belwood favourite Natalie Shay returns to capture the feeling of the moment when butterflies become a tidal wave with her euphoric new single. ‘New Wave’ describes the sensation of those bubbling emotions that you’ve been questioning so long suddenly all making sense, and the excitement of starting a new chapter. When you put your doubts and fears aside and open your heart to someone new, and open you mind to imagine what this new love has in store. Fittingly this latest single is perhaps her most vibrant and effervescent offering yet, with Natalie having refined and perfected her uplifting 80s aesthetic. The synths shimmer brighter than ever, the captivating chorus is one of her most infectious yet, and its joyous groove will have you jumping up to dance in no time flat. This dazzling single skips the slow part of falling in love, and instead you’re caught in the rush right from the first listen.

Top Tracks: Megan Dixon Hood – Third Lung

Tapping on the glass, like animals in a cage, we put ourselves in here, to find ourselves again“. If there’s a hunger in your heart for imaginative, environmentally-conscious epics, then there’s no better artist to sate your yearning than Belwood favourite Megan Dixon Hood. While she previously tackled the topic of our role in a rapidly changing world on her stunning single ‘The Wishing Tree‘ as seen through a fantastical lens, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction. Her latest single ‘Third Lung‘ draws inspiration from the Biosphere 2 experiment, in which scientists tried to create and live within an artificial ecosystem as practice for maintaining life in space, but which ultimately failed due to a lack of oxygen. Much like many of us discovered through the course of lockdown, it shows how we take the delicate balance of the world around us for granted. How we’re a part of a grand and complex system whether we realise it or not, and the Earth in turn is a part of who we are and what keeps us going. Meanwhile the hubris of thinking you can create a new world without fully respecting and understanding the one we have now has harrowing parallels for our current approach to the changing climate. Creating a grand vibrant ecosystem all of her own, letting you discover something new with each listen, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Megan Dixon Hood: soaring, poignant, downright danceable and an absolute delight.

Top Tracks: The Greatest Endangered Thing – Green, Blue

Having the world come grinding to a halt around you is incredibly jarring, especially so for those who found themselves taking their foot off the accelerator for the first time in forever. Suddenly all those burdens of modern society, and the pressure we keep placing on ourselves – the need to pack as much into a day as possible, tailoring your existence around expectations and deadlines, being all about the destination without sparing a thought for the journey – all that fell by the wayside. We suddenly found ourselves encouraged to literally stop and smell the flowers, and in doing so gained a new perspective on the things that truly matter. With their blissful debut single ‘Green, Blue‘, transatlantic duo The Greatest Endangered Thing embrace life in the slow lane. With the warm and welcoming country charm of violin and banjo, the perfectly matched mellow vocals of Samuel Taylor and Rebecca Van Cleave, and a delightful backing chorus of birdsong, it’s an idyllic reminder of the need to put the world on pause once in a while. To spend time with the people we love, bask in the beauty of the world around us, and above all trust that you’ll make it to wherever you’re headed in the end, so you may as well take the chance to savour every step you can along the way.

Top Tracks: Beth Crowley – In The End

When it comes to romance, they say that everyone has a “type”. Knowingly or not there are certain traits that draw you in and set your heart racing. I believe the same is true when it comes to music; you’ll come across a song and something about it will tick a very specific set of boxes that you never knew you had, and before too long you’re completely under its spell. With that in mind, I learnt something about myself thanks to ‘In The End’ – I have a type. It’s revealed to me that I adore tracks which play into my love of fantasy, that paint with grand, sweeping cinematic strokes, and that thrive in the darkness and entrance you with their witchy mystique. With her new single, Nashville based singer/songwriter Beth Crowley offers all that and more. Drawing inspiration from The Witcher, it weaves the tale of a star crossed romance destined for heartbreak and tragedy, but one whose passions burn so fiercely that both parties couldn’t bear to turn away, and each welcome such destruction as a small price to pay for a shared embrace. With its pounding drums, soaring strings and Beth’s impassioned performance, ‘In The End’ makes my heart flutter like a raven’s wings. It flickers and dances like a flame and feels every bit as bewitching.