Long time readers will know that I’ve often been an advocate for the idea that sometimes less is more. This is true in all media, and in wide variety of situations. In horror we’re more scared of the unknown than by what is right in front of us, for a mystery to work you need to keep details obscured until just the right moment, and in music the empty space between notes is just as important as the notes themselves. This philosophy manifests in a couple of different ways on ‘little things’. Firstly the band/artist sym fera in the first place; one of the most mysterious submissions I’ve ever received. With little more than a monochrome symbol to go on, this act lets the music do all the talking. ‘Little Things’ takes full advantage of this as it slowly and purposefully says its piece. With the melancholic piano melody, soft choral hums and little splashes of orchestration all striking out before fading into the void, you get a grand sense of scale from the lightest of touches. It’s like a single candle flickering in a vast inky abyss beckoning you to come closer. This dramatic slow burner pulls you in step by step, building up tension and anticipation, before finally offering sweet release with some sublime fuzzy guitar and stunning soulful vocals that will give goosebumps to anyone with even half a heart.
I’ve written many times about the therapeutic power of music. Both as a listener hearing words that you can connect with and relate to, and for artists expressing their thoughts and feelings in song and the catharsis that comes with sharing them with the world. Listening to this latest track from Canadian duo Moscow Apartment however, and remarking on the story behind how it came to be, I’m struck by another therapeutic quality of music that hadn’t occurred to me before. Written when Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla were still in the early days of both their friendship and their time as band mates, ‘Halfway’ was the product of an argument after some growing pains in their relationship. Half a letter of apology, and half a letter of forgiveness, this is a song that shows the unique power of making music with other people. The way that creating something together can break down walls, help you see things through another’s eyes, and potentially help build a strong foundation for a life-long friendship. Taken from their forthcoming EP Better Daughter, this bittersweet slice of dream pop (perfect for fans of Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy) is simply swimming in gorgeous melodies and reminds me of the myriad ways that music can bring people together.
It should go without saying that this period of isolation that we find ourselves in can be very lonely. Being apart really puts into perspective who really matters in our lives. The flip side of this however is that it shines a light on all the ways in which we can thrive on our own, and how we can build ourselves up given the chance. ‘Catch & Release’ is about the freedom that comes with turning your back on the people that take more than they give in your life, and realising you’re better off. It’s a song all about finding happiness in yourself rather than needing another person to complete you or seeking the approval of people who don’t deserve your time or attention. This bright and breezy track from Toronto’s Alannah Kavanagh, under her moniker Grizzly Coast, carries the feeling of a weight being lifted. With a bounding carefree bass line, gorgeous dream pop melodies, an energising earworm chorus, and some killer guitar work in the closing moments, ‘Catch & Release’ feels like watching the sun rise on a bright new dawn. One free of the expectations of others holding you back from living your best life.
“It’s a funny feeling when you feel you’ve lost your mind” – doesn’t that just capture love in a nutshell? Falling for someone can really change a person; like a spell cast over you, like some phantom possessing you out of all your control. Love can make the most steadfast person succumb to impulse, cause the most logical mind to be ruled by passion, make the hardest of hearts yearn for openness and intimacy. The sway that love has over us is what makes it so beautiful in the long term, and also so terrifying when it first blooms. When you find yourself falling your emotions get caught in a daunting Catch-22 situation, one that’s captured brilliantly in the soulful folk of ‘Out Of Sight (Out Of Mind)’. This sincere new single from Francesca Louise, taken from her forthcoming debut EP Melancholic Antidote, shows how embracing love and avoiding it are equally difficult paths. It is no easy task to willingly be vulnerable, to give someone the power to either destroy you or build you up and trusting them to choose the latter. Nor is it any easier to bottle everything up, to have a secret on the tip of your tongue longing to be free, to have someone occupy your thoughts night and day alongside the ever present question of “what if?”. Francesca’s candour, earnestness and enrapturing vocals make this track really shine. I’ve chosen my path, I won’t let my love for this song go unspoken.
There’s all kinds of songs in the world. Music with vastly different styles and structures, with deeply contrasting moods and meanings. Despite this wealth of contrast and variety in the music we consume, we usually celebrate all the songs we love in exactly the same way; namely we listen to them again. It’s just human nature isn’t it? We keep the same song spinning on repeat, basking in every note and burning an imprint onto our brain until we move on to something else. This is the case with 99% of songs we love, but every so often we come across a song like ‘The Closest’ that demands the opposite. Steeped in meaning, melody and melancholy (and with a gorgeous stop-motion video to boot), this track from German duo Paper Waltz is testament to the fact that the saddest songs are the most beautiful. It’s the kind of song that demands your full attention, followed by a moment or two of quiet reflection to take it all in. One listen is all it takes for songs like this to occupy your mind all day long. It may be a while before you come back to listen to it again, but that only ensures that every time you hear it will be just as magical and affecting as the first time.
I have to admit I’ve been feeling a little apprehensive about the inevitable wave of songs written about the Coronavirus and the ensuing lockdown. While I’m sure there will be nothing but good intentions behind them, it is a delicate subject that requires a gentle touch and a certain degree of empathy and tact. If any of them broach the subject anywhere near as well as ‘Not In This Alone’ however then I’ll have nothing to worry about. Despite being written, recorded, and released in a very short time frame, this new track from singer/songwriter Brooks Dixon shows remarkable mindfulness for the current situation. Touching on the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that comes with feeling trapped, as well as the small reassuring moments of humanity that see people looking out for one another and giving us all a spark of hope and joy, the song really captures the zeitgeist of the bizarre times we find ourselves in. At a time when we’re forced to keep our distance, the well spoken lyricism and warm vocals found here are just the comforting embrace we all need and long for.
Most songs are works of art that you take in all at once like gazing at a painting. Sometimes however there is great joy to be found in songs that bide their time, that don’t play their hand too soon and let you stand witness as they build up over time. What we have on offer with tracks like ‘The Silence’ is more akin to seeing a painting brought to life one brush stroke at a time or having the final few pieces of a collage fall into place to reveal the bigger picture. Songs like this latest release from London quartet Secret Cameras just get better and better with each listen as you delve deeper into the myriad of little details and nuances. Opening with swirling cyberpunk electronica reminiscent of latter day Muse, you already have an inkling that the band have something inventive and eclectic in store for you right from the very start. As the song develops we are also graced with rich vocals, propulsive drums, a glorious post punk bass line that you can feel rumbling deep in your gut, and guitars wailing like some feral creature straining against chains that can barely contain it.
This track makes me want to believe in astrology… now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d begin a review with, but bear with me! To be more specific, as a Gemini child myself I wish I was half the man depicted in this rollicking rocker from slick singer-songwriter Drew Angus. ‘Mr. Gemini’ takes all the long held stereotypes about those born under the sign – namely being outgoing and impulsive, wild and unpredictable, as fickle and as forceful as the weather – and dials them up to 11. We’re left with a vivid picture of a freewheeling whirlwind of a man, barrelling down the highway in search of the next big adventure. That same zeal burns brightly in every aspect of this old school rock’n’roller. As well as name-dropping The Boss it has all the same heart as an uptempo E Street offering, the soaring guitar work reminds me a little of The Only Ones’ ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, the superb vocals strike the perfect balance between polished and free-spirited, and its unrelenting upbeat energy is damn near irresistible. I’m no oracle, but all the horoscopes are telling me that this is an early contender for being one of the best songs of 2020.
The world would be a very different place without dreamers, yet they remain forever misunderstood. We all too often see daydreaming and having your head in the clouds depicted as some kind of character flaw rather than as a kind of inner strength and creativity to be admired. With ‘Cloudwalker’ Belwood favourite Megan Dixon Hood shines a light on the real power that dreamers possess. How they can break the Earthly bonds that hold them back and escape into a world of imagination. One where the expectations of others become meaningless and you can be whoever you want to be, a place with no rules or limits, and experience a sense of freedom unlike any other. In seeing the world through that lens people can weather the fiercest storms, see all the forgotten beauty and wonder in the everyday, and think outside the box and look at problems from a new angle. With Megan’s entrancing vocals, some melodic nods to Kate Bush, and an uplifting whirlwind of boundless electropop energy – this one goes out to the dreamers. Here’s a song to make you feel like cartwheeling over endless jungle canopies or dancing across oceans on the crest of a wave.
Sometimes a song takes a while to really grow on you. Perhaps you need to be in the right mood to hear it for the lyrics to really connect with you, or maybe the melodies take time to worm their way into your heart. Sometimes I end up listening to a song on repeat for hours on end before writing about it until every rise and fall feels homely and familiar. Conversely some songs grab you right from the first listen, and even just the first few seconds can be enough to make you stop what you’re doing, sit up, and pay attention. ‘Hurting You’ falls into the latter category. With just a handful of sparse yet striking piano notes and a couple of lines of arresting vocals akin to a mix of Sam Smith and Rag’N’Bone Man, this latest track from Aidan Martin soon grabs ahold of you. Its grasp only gets tighter as the song builds and blooms, so that by the time you reach its grand choral climax it has already earned a place in your heart, as well as your playlist. It may not be a song that needs several listens, but you’ll find yourself hitting repeat all the same.