If there’s one heartwarming upside to be drawn from this crazy year it’s been how connected we have remained despite being stuck at home and unable to meet in person. How friendships have thrived in spite of the distance, and how new ones have formed against all the odds. With this in mind ‘Last Bus in the A.M.’ very much captures the zeitgeist of 2020. Unconventional pop duo Bestfriend composed their latest stunning synthpop single from complete opposite ends of the country – with Stacy Kim on the West Coast, Kaelan Geoffrey on the East, and thousands of miles and several time zones in between. Not that you would know that by listening, as every exquisitely crafted element falls seamlessly into place. The nostalgic synths offering an intoxicating hit of familiarity, while the soft vocals and understated harmonies feed into the beautifully bittersweet and dreamy tone. The rich storytelling in the lyrics bringing every shambolic party you’ve ever been to right to the forefront of your mind, making even hectic nights full of angst, anxiety and awkwardness shimmer through rose tinted glasses. To hear two people so far apart sound so in sync is such a life-affirming experience. A welcome reminder of the power that music has to bring us together.
It’s songs like this that really make my job difficult. As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time weaving my thoughts about music into a verbose tapestry of flowery language, the rare gift of a song that leaves me lost for words is the most delightfully vexatious experience imaginable. Doctor by day and musical maestro by night, Fran O’Hanlon’s latest single under his moniker AJIMAL is an absolute must-hear track. To say that his soulful and tender vocals evoke Jeff Buckley, and that the opulent orchestration reminds me of the softer side of Talk Talk and Belwood favourites The Last Dinosaur, would only be scratching the surface. The loving intimacy and devotion of this track is so hard to describe, but it’s a feeling that anyone who has given their heart to someone completely will know all too well. Anyone who has known a love so absolute will be left breathless by the line “I’ve loved your heart as long as it’s been beating”. And I doubt even Wordsworth himself could compose a poem to describe the sensation which this gorgeous arrangement offers. How this blissful baroque pop ballad makes your spirit soar, how it lifts you up to pirouette upon a pillowy canopy of clouds. The only way to truly understand is to hear it for yourself.
We’re not born with hate in our hearts, it’s something that’s taught to us. When you’re young you don’t see creed, colour or class. Likewise we don’t become fixated on our own faults and perceived imperfections until later in life. We all start out with open hearts and open minds, full of love for ourselves and others, until the world tells us otherwise. But we don’t have to accept this culture of division and insecurity that is thrust upon us. As Canadian duo Family of Things so deftly tell us with the hook of their infectious new single: “you know better”. We can reject the drive to throw up walls and embrace the open and loving state of mind that we were born with. Full of vibrant carefree energy, ‘YKB’ is the perfect anthem for the better world that it preaches. With a hefty helping of Jungle, a kaleidoscopic dash of Tame Impala, and a striking video that wouldn’t look out of place projected on a skyscraper in Blade Runner, this fabulously funky slice of electropop is one of the most feel-good tracks I’ve heard this year. Packed with memorable hooks, slinky bass lines, shimmering synths and seductive splashes of sax, it’s the kind of song that makes you want to rush to the dancefloor and drag the nearest person along with you.
There is so much that is woven into the intricate fabric that is you and I. All the little daily rituals, all the cherished memories, a network of feelings and morals. We’re all little more than a jumbled mess of quirks and idiosyncrasies manning a trenchcoat and playing at being a person. It’s often difficult to separate ourselves from the pieces that make up who we are; pull too hard at one thread and the whole thing may unravel. All this can make for a daunting prospect however when it comes to the parts of ourselves that we long to change. ‘Burn Me Down’ deals with the inner turmoil that stems from addiction. Whether it’s a substance, a sensation or a person, the end result is the same – it becomes a crutch that you lean too heavily upon. The only option is to let it keep corrupting its way deeper into your spirit, or to take a torch to your darker side in the hope of building a better you from the ashes. This sublime slow-burning track from Portland based artist Jacob Westfall explores this journey in spectacular fashion. Opening with a soft and melancholic folk arrangement, with Jacob’s gritty vocals at its heart, before kicking up a gear with a lush and enrapturing Americana vibe. At its climax an emphatic drum fill launches us into a tempestuous bluesy solo to offer the release that the song has been so perfectly building towards right from the very first note.
If there’s one adage I’ve seen proven true time and again in recent years it’s that the grass is always greener on the other side. When you’re looking at someone and wishing you had what they have, odds are they are looking at you in just the same way. People working a 9-to-5 office job will look at musicians living a creative and adventurous life and envy their freedom. It’s something we see romanticised all the time, but rarely do we see the other side of the story acknowledged. ‘Roman Candles’ flips the narrative to show that following your dreams isn’t always smooth sailing. This new single from Canadian indie pop outfit Dizzy shares the insecurity that comes from being surrounded by friends that have stability in their lives. Spending time with people who have houses and families, and generally have their shit together by the commonly accepted social standards, and fearing that you’ll never have the same on your current path. The latest cut from their new album The Sun And Her Scorch out 31st July, Dizzy’s delightful new track is packed to the brim with gorgeous melodies and boasts one of the most addictive hooks of the year. The nostalgia it evokes with its understated and bittersweet synth arrangement is every bit as warm and endearing as the golden hour glow of its charming music video. This is the first time Dizzy have crossed my radar, but if the rest of the new record is as good as this then that’s the soundtrack of my summer all sorted.
We all feel a little lost sometimes. Those niggling feelings of doubt that make us wonder who we are, where we’re headed, and what really matters. They come and go all the time, a little moment of introspection before returning to normal. If life in lockdown has taught us anything however it’s that maybe normal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe that wayward sensation should be seen as a spur towards self-discovery, a message from the universe saying that there’s a better you and a better life out there waiting to be found. Having started out her career as a busker, singer/songwriter Katherine Abbott knows all about the transformative power of cutting the ties that hold you down and following your heart. Her new single ‘Wayward’ is a track that you can get suitably lost in; her voice like the warm glow of a new dawn, the soft and airy folk arrangement washing over you like a cool breeze, and the sublime acoustic solo at its centre feels the perfect reminder to slow down and appreciate the little things in life.
I’d like to think my words offer something more than just a shout into the void. For the most part the whole point of the blog is to spread the word about great music that may otherwise pass people by. Great music doesn’t just appear out of thin air however, it takes an artist years of work to hone their craft, and it needs an audience willing to nurture them and help them grow. It’s one thing to listen to a song for what it is, but sometimes you have to listen and think where it can lead, to hear the promise and potential of what the future may hold. That’s what I hear in ‘Fool’. Sure, the arrangement is a little sparse and the production isn’t the most polished – hurdles that all new artists just starting out must overcome – but despite this Tali Shear’s talent is clear as day. On this gorgeous break-up ballad the London based singer/songwriter addresses the feeling of falling for someone, putting your trust and faith in them, only to be left feeling hurt and lost when they make it clear they don’t feel the same way. The openness and vulnerability in Tali’s songwriting feels raw and striking, her soulful and expressive vocals equal parts passionate and pensive. Hopefully these words reach someone who hears what I hear: an immensely talented rising star on the cusp on brilliance, an artist that they’re keen to encourage and eager to hear grow.
Everyone cherry picks the best moments to show the world. All the moments of triumph, all the accomplishments you’re most proud of, all the blissful holidays and the days when you look your best. No one wants to broadcast the days when you’re an absolute shambles. All the times when you’re ill, or anxious, or clumsy. All the days when it feels like nothing is working out the way you wanted. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re the only ones who have bad days and buy into everyone’s facade, and sometimes we get so used to forcing a smile that even those close to us can’t see when we’re struggling. It takes real courage to let the glamour fall away and show the world that you’re just as flawed and imperfect as anyone, that no one has their life together the way they pretend to. Belwood favourite Cristina Hart does just that with her sparkling new single ‘I’m a Mess’. With its earworm melodies and immaculate production this dazzling self-deprecating pop powerhouse is a relatable reminder that you don’t always need to be on your A game, and to take a moment every now and then to celebrate all the little quirks that make you who you are. No need to force a smile anymore, as you won’t be able to keep from smiling with this gorgeous bop to brighten your day.
Some songs act as time capsules for the moment they were written. Every time you press play you get a picture of the surroundings where inspiration struck, and for a fleeting moment feel just what was running through the artist’s mind. Composed atop the eponymous mountain range, ‘Pyrenees’ was born of songwriter Jonas Bonnetta having a moment of rest and reflection alone after time spent on the road and finding catharsis in creation. All that comes across in the very essence of this latest single from Evening Hymns’ new album Heavy Nights (out 26th June). In how it’s lavish and hazy arrangement feels like standing on top of the world looking down on all the hustle and bustle below, and in how this slow burner simply crackles with pent up energy. The stunning addition of Destroyer saxophonist Joseph Shabason just lights up the song like a flash of lightning amongst rolling storm clouds. With the dreamy Americana of The War On Drugs, the multifaceted grandeur of Bon Iver and a sophisticated retro pop feel akin to Bruce Hornsby, ‘Pyrenees’ is simply marvellous from start to finish.
I think we’ve seen enough misery and suffering in 2020 to last a lifetime. What we could all do with right now is something to restore our faith in humanity. Spirited singer/songwriter Raye Zaragoza has provided in our hour of need with her empowering feminist anthem ‘Fight Like A Girl’. While the song itself has an irresistible charm; an enchanting concoction of heartwarming brass, soulful vocals, passionate lyricism and vibrant folk melodies; it’s the visuals that really take the track to a whole other level. A magnificent collage of inspiring women of all faiths, ages and backgrounds coming together to show that a better world is possible. You see moments of child-like innocence, strong women standing up to let their voice be heard, and a myriad of gorgeous displays of artistic expression. There’s all kinds of vibrant snapshots of diverse cultures to shine a light on incredible women living their best lives all across the globe. There’s a truly uplifting energy to ‘Fight Like A Girl’. The winning combination of the warm and welcoming music with the empowering visuals make for exactly the kind of life-affirming experience we all need.