There’s an odd sense of solace that comes from feeling small and inconsequential. We feel it most in the bittersweet tranquility that comes from gazing up at the stars, or in this instance from watching the rhythmic crashing of waves upon the shore. Staring out from the sand at a vast expanse of rolling ocean, stretching beyond the horizon, somehow makes you and all the worries holding you down feel insignificant by comparison. Watching waves dash upon rocks and race along sandy beaches before retreating back – same as they always have, and as ever they will – offers some comfort in their constancy when so much in life feels uncertain. With their new single ‘Waves Poem’, Irish trio All The Luck In The World capture that feeling brilliantly with a blend of vivid imagery and compelling soundscapes. Taken from their forthcoming album How The Ash Felt, it marries the soft shimmer of their affecting introspective folk style, with layered grandiose instrumentation and hints of glitchy electronica that recalls Bon Iver’s self-titled, and feels every bit as expansive and spellbinding as the ever swirling sea it depicts.
Quite often the spark that drives me, and I would hope all music writers, is the one that comes from finding a diamond in the rough. Hearing a new track full of promise from an up-and-coming artist and just being completely captivated by the sense of possibility, and looking forward to watching them grow. Hearing some interesting style or engaging melodies, envisioning how it can be built upon further down the line, and singing its praises from the rooftops to give it a nudge (however small) to help reach that point. ‘Vampire’ is not one of those tracks. It’s no diamond in the rough, rather it’s already perfectly cut, full of fire and brimming with brilliance. Nashville based artist Reed Gaines offers an assured performance, and delivers a song that any big name band would proudly parade as a new lead single. The anthemically bittersweet melodies and driving drums immediately recall The National’s ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’, but the quiet dignity of Reed’s hushed vocal style and some smatterings of elegant piano and spaced out synths in the closing moments manage to add his own unique stamp upon it. ‘Vampire’ is such a triumph that almost the opposite is true and it’s hard to see just how it can be built upon… but I’m looking forward to finding out.
This past year has been difficult for everyone, and for many of us our friends have been the lifeline that has kept us going. We’ve all been given a chance to reflect on the things that truly matter and strengthen the connections that matter most to us. But as we rekindle old friendships and grow closer to loved ones, we are sadly also reminded of all the relationships that have somehow fallen by the wayside. For whatever reason there are plenty of people that we slowly drift apart from until they become strangers in all but name. While the relationships that end abruptly usually at least come with some amount of closure, those that quietly erode without you noticing before it’s too late leave behind a multitude of questions and ‘what-ifs’; no big crescendo, just fading away into silence. With wonderfully expressive raspy vocals reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, the bittersweet Americana of ‘Ellipses’ addresses the lonely limbo of faded friendships. How you try your hardest to keep the conversation alive but the replies still become fewer and further between, until they just stop all together. How it leaves you with so much left unsaid, still wondering how they’re doing long after losing touch, never knowing if there was a reason, something you could have done different, or whether it was all just life getting in the way.
So much of who we are is intrinsically tied to the turn of the seasons. Who among us hasn’t felt uplifted by the first sun of spring and seeing the leaves and flowers begin to bloom. That moment of transition which brings a lightness to your heart and a comforting feeling of familiarity. It’s a peculiar sensation, and one that seems to burn brighter with each passing year. Whether we realise it or not, captured in that moment is the memory of shifting seasons from ages past and all the changes they wrought. In the first azure sky of summer we remember the boundless feeling that came from our carefree adventures, with the first cool breeze of autumn we recall walking with loved ones beneath the golden falling leaves, and with winter’s first flakes of snow our inner child jumps for joy every time. With her blissful new single ‘Fresh Drone’, Amy May Ellis encapsulates that sense of reflection and nostalgia. Perfect for fans of Billie Marten, its light and airy folk arrangement is the perfect analogue for the feeling of simply closing your eyes, listening to the birdsong, and feeling the breeze across your skin. Taken from her upcoming EP When In The Wind, ‘Fresh Drone’ hangs over you in a delicate haze, like a fading dream still clinging on through the first light of morning.
There’s a subtle art to sparse arrangements. It’s all too easy for it to feel like there’s something missing; like you’re a solitary voice in the silence, surrounded by empty space yet to be filled. The key is to make the quiet work for you. Incorporating the blank canvas into the artwork itself, making the empty stage part of the story being told. Taken from the forthcoming album The Dark Below & The Isle of Dogs, this stunning song tells the tale of a man beset by misfortune and misery, foul luck forever following just a few steps behind, and struggling to find someone to help carry the weight. The song’s sparse nature amplifies all the feelings it evokes; the sorrow of being stuck on an endless spiral, where misfortune breeds more misfortune out of all your control, and the isolation of feeling like burden and a bad omen for those around you. More than that, it lets you savour each mournful rise and fall of cello, and allows the raw, soulful vocals of Sean Murphy the necessary room to captivate you with every plaintive plea. ‘The Ides Of March’ bends the stillness to its bidding and implores you to revel in every detail uncovered by the quiet, no matter how broken and intimate.
I remember once reading that nearly everyone unfortunate enough to lose an arm or a leg experiences what’s known as a “phantom limb”. It’s so inconceivable that we can just carry on without such an important part of ourselves that our brains simply can’t process it. Even years after the fact it feels like there’s something still there. I’m of the mind that a similar sensation takes hold after a break-up. When those very deepest of connections that we form – the kind where the other person has your heart completely and becomes part of your whole identity – get severed, it’s hardly surprising that it feels like losing a part of ourselves. ‘This Bird Has Flown’ deftly deals with those phantom threads that remain. How that person remains at the forefront of your thoughts long after their gone. How they’re the first person you think of whenever you have news to share, how all your hopes and dreams of the future still contain an empty silhouette of them, and how some part of you deep down will always leave a light on for them to come back. With his debut single, Bear’s Den founding member Joey Haynes (under the moniker John Revelle) traces those tethers while channelling his inner Neil Young. With its gospel tinged chorus and soft twangs of banjo, this timeless slice of Americana will fittingly stay with you for a long while.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the worst of humanity and forget to take a step back and appreciate the good; like our uncanny ability to create, to make something seemingly out of nothing. How words on a page can change history, how paint on a canvas can inspire generations, and how a few plucked wires on a piece of wood can make beautiful music. With ‘Giant Leap’ guitarist Joe Devine offers that same sense of perspective and instils a sense of wonder. Though the song’s odd time signature and rock steady rhythm section form an already engaging foundation, the rest of the track feels like Joe has been let loose to weave an entire world of his own creation. A cathedral of sound from a few plucked strings, he packs so much feeling into this one instrumental. This ‘Giant Leap’ soars into the stratosphere with an exhilarating rush, builds moments of tension as though the ground is racing to meet you, and offers dazzlingly quick and intricate changes like a high speed chicane through the treeline. There are moments of stillness that feel like drifting through the clouds gazing at the world below, and it boasts infectious melodies to rival any pop song. I’ve often wondered why instrumental tracks so rarely break into the mainstream, but hearing it done to this standard I’m conscious now of just how high the bar has been set.
We all lead double lives. We put on a brave face and keep going through the motions, but underneath we’re all fighting our own battles. All the pain and fear that eats away at us, the hopes that we dare to cling to, the little rituals and small moments of joy that keep us together. Even for the most open among us, no one ever sees the real you, no one truly understands what it’s live your life. But sometimes it’s important to remember that the same is true of everyone else. Whether it’s a passing stranger or those closest to us, they’ve all struggled with things you couldn’t even begin to guess at. With this introspective indie rocker, Benedict takes the time to think on the trials that others have faced and wonder what it’s like to see the world through their eyes. What begins as a blend of love, admiration and regret, thinking back on his own sister’s battle with cancer and the hidden torrent of emotions she must have faced, grows into a more universal message of understanding. With its driving beat, compelling chorus, and Benedict’s striking vocals reminiscent of The National’s Matt Berninger, ‘Sweet Sister’ is a timely reminder to be mindful of each other’s struggles and to walk a mile in their shoes every now and then.
I can’t remember the last time I heard so much meaning packed into such a brief song. Despite not even breaking the 3 minute mark, there’s so much feeling to be found in the latest single from Swedish singer/songwriter Jonas Källstrand. Exploring the sorrows of loss, and all the emptiness and uncertainty that follows, ‘Dad’ is a poignant and plaintive search for some ray of light to cling to. The beautifully bittersweet indie folk arrangement drifts and twirls like an autumn leaf on the breeze, and lends a comforting sense of melody to Jonas’ emotive lyricism. It’s closing refrain of “I’ve heard that no one is an island, but now the water’s closing in…” is left echoing in your thoughts as the song abruptly fades to silence, like the flicker of a candle flame snuffed out by the dark. But somehow nearly every line manages to strike a chord and tug at something deep down within. Partly due to the heart and emotion that Jonas imbues his performance with, but also thanks to how his words are so open for you to attach your own meaning. As well as offering catharsis for a sense of loss, there’s also comfort to be found here for any lost souls. Anyone, however lost or hurting or alone, can find their struggles reflected within.
We’re all our own fiercest critics. We make mountains out of every molehill, overthinking the kind of flaws and failures in our lives that no one else would pay any mind to. We fixate on every minor bump in the road, and never give our little victories the time and attention they deserve, to the point where we lose perspective on just how much progress we’ve made. But the people we hold dear often know us better than we know ourselves, and where we see the worst they see the very best in us. A caring mother will beam with pride at how far you’ve come even if you feel stuck in a rut, and a good friend will pick you up when you feel low and remind you of all the ways you make their life richer. With ‘Talk To Yourself’, seasoned songwriter Mark Elliott presents the sage advice that we should look at ourselves through their eyes once in a while, and offer the same reassuring words that they would when times get tough. This wholesome and heart-warming slice of Americana, every bit as smooth and soulful as Chris Stapleton’s ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, carries an uplifting charm that just brightens the room every time. An early song of the year contender, we could all benefit from basking in its warm glow and taking its wise words to heart.