Top Tracks: Rett Madison – Kerosene

Did you know that scientists can’t even begin to match the computing power of the human brain? We’ve seen technology advancing at an astonishing rate over the past few decades, but our own minds are still the most complex machines that we know of. Even 100 years from now we still might not be able to surpass what nature itself has made. Songs like ‘Kerosene’ make me look at music in much the same way. Hearing LA based artist Rett Madison’s vocals on this track, it strikes me that even after centuries of work from skilled craftsmen and artists we are yet to make an instrument to equal the human voice. Rett’s voice is the centrepiece of this track, and with it we are gifted with a gentle and charming country twang alongside stunning soulful crescendos. Between the pain, doubt and vulnerability you can feel in your very heart in the song’s softer moments, and the defiant, passionate force-of-nature chorus that fills the room, you’re left feeling caught in a maelstrom of emotion being dragged deeper with each listen. I can’t think of any instrument made by human hands that can do all that, can make you feel all that, but an incredible voice at the disposal of a supremely talented artist can do all kinds of miraculous things beyond our understanding.

Top Tracks: Cristina Hart – Bad Girlfriend

Belwood favourite Cristina Hart is back with another brilliantly addictive hit of polished pop taken from her forthcoming debut EP. While her last stunning single ‘I’m A Mess‘ talked about how we try to flaunt some flawless facade to the world and hide all our struggles away, her latest liberating bop ‘Bad Girlfriend’ takes the idea a step further. At no point do we try harder to pretend that we’re perfect than at the start of a relationship. The stakes are never higher than when you have someone new in your life that you’re keen to impress, and so you strain to hide away all your flaws as you fear any one of them could tip the scales and scare them away. At times you may even find yourself dwelling on how past relationships fell apart, and end up focusing more on stopping history from repeating itself than on the new love that’s blooming right in front of you. Cristina shows wisdom beyond her years in embracing the honest, open and unapologetic approach to love; recognising that if it’s meant to be then they won’t run from emotional baggage, but rather help carry the weight. If you’re busy hiding away who you really are then they’ll never love the real you, and when you truly love someone you do so faults and all.

Top Tracks: Alex Francis – Run

“Wishing that I had you here, tired of talking via satellite” – a very familiar feeling in 2020. Being apart from friends and family has been the worst part of quarantine. Such a sense of isolation and detachment from all you hold dear is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. To willingly embrace such separation would therefore be a pretty crazy thing to do, but then love makes people do crazy things. ‘Run’, the new single from the brilliant Alex Francis, is all about life in a long distance relationship, and just how far people will go for the chance that it may all work out in the end. While the track shines thanks to Alex’s soulful vocals, and a soft echoey guitar solo that serves to emphasise the distance and disconnect, what really steals the show here is the lyrics. Alex manages to find all the right words to capture many different facets of the plight felt by long distance lovers. The fear that comes with leaving yourself so open and vulnerable, and the constant longing for all the myriad moments of closeness that you’re forever missing out on. Everyone telling you that it will never work, even that nagging voice in the back of your head, but ultimately fighting with all you’ve got to beat the odds and prove the world wrong, because deep in your heart you know that it’s a love worth fighting for.

Top Tracks: Morning Arcade – Cold Shoulders

It’s been a while since I last came across a band that packed so much into their debut single as Cardiff’s Morning Arcade. These Welsh wonders certainly pull no punches with ‘Cold Shoulders’, determined to show the world who they are and what they can do right from the off. With a driving beat and gorgeous hazy melodies forming a strong foundation, the track already does plenty to get you hooked just in the first couple of minutes, before the band decide to kick it up a notch. It’s here that ‘Cold Shoulders’ launches into a searing guitar solo with an expansive overdriven Americana tone that will delight fans of The War On Drugs. Not content merely launching you in the stratosphere, the band close the track by letting you drift away high above the world with some lush and expansive dream pop thrown in for good measure. Morning Arcade certainly don’t rest on their laurels when it comes to lyrics either. Not content to play it safe, the track calls attention to the ever looming threat of environmental disaster and the pervasive indifference holding society back from building a better world. One part late night driving anthem, one part blissful lullaby, and one part defiant call for action; if Morning Arcade can do all that with one song then just imagine what they could do with a full album further down the line. 

Top Tracks: Brass Phantoms – Hurricane

If we think of the process of writing a song as being like cooking a delicious meal, often the greatest recipes come from blending different flavours together. Combinations that perhaps you wouldn’t have first thought would work but end up complimenting each other in unexpected ways. It’s in that contrast, in refusing to compromise and allowing two extremes to flourish alongside each other rather than compete for attention, that you can often happen upon something special. By this measure the new single from Dublin’s Brass Phantoms is a delicacy well worth sinking your teeth into. ‘Hurricane’, taken from their forthcoming debut album Holding Out For Horrors out 18th September, is a brilliant example of light and shade at work. Juxtaposing a dark and intricate post punk rhythm section, with snaking bass lines and sharp expressive drum work, against light and breezy indie riffs, soaring solos and anthemic earworm melodies, serves to ensure that both sides of the coin shine brighter than they would do alone. ‘Hurricane’ shows two styles working in tandem; the dark writhing storm clouds and low rumbling thunder, and the energetic lightning racing across the sky; to create a real force of nature.

Top Tracks: Henry Nozuka – Into The Wild

Sometimes you just hear the perfect song for a particular time and place and it’s as though the planets have aligned. Being snuggled up warm in bed as I write these words, whilst the wind and rain batters against my window, somehow feels like the ideal setting for Henry Nozuka’s ‘Into The Wild’. With a contemplative autumnal folk sound drawing influence from Nick Drake, this first single from the Canadian singer/songwriter’s forthcoming debut album Ember of the Night offers an enchantingly idyllic refuge. It’s the kind of song you listen to as a form of escapism, a role it fulfills so well that you’ll lose count of how many times you’ve had it on repeat and time itself will feel as though it’s lost all meaning. Each time you press play and truly listen, closing your eyes and opening your heart, you’re gifted with one of two different escapes. Either you allow the vivid imagery to whisk you away to a serene and surreal dream world, or the intimate arrangement will have you feeling that Henry is right there in the room with you. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been laid here listening to this song, how many times I’ve indulged in each escape it offers, but I can tell you that it was worth every second.

Top Tracks: Kane Miller – Kings and Queens

Life in lockdown has resulted in a new-found appreciation for so many things that I’d have otherwise taken for granted, chief among them being the great outdoors. Growing up in the countryside has often left me feeling detached from the world, stuck in a quiet forgotten corner, and subsequently drawn in by the allure of action and excitement offered by the big city. But with so many friends trapped in cramped apartments on dreary grey streets, I’ve seen the rolling fields around me in a new light. It doesn’t always take something as drastic as a pandemic however to come to such a realisation, sometimes all it takes is some time away to realise what you’re missing. That’s the exact epiphany Canadian singer/songwriter Kane Miller describes in his new single ‘Kings and Queens’. Going from small town life to living and working in the hustle and bustle of Toronto left Miller longing to escape the rat race and experience the open air again. The buoyant folk pop of ‘Kings and Queens’ perfectly captures the overlooked charm of country life. The dreamy harmonies drifting by like leaves in the breeze, the warm melodies like sunlight shimmering upon the lake, and it’s jaunty joyful arrangement and carefree atmosphere a million miles removed from the stresses and struggles of city life.

Top Tracks: Simon Alexander – Heading Nowhere

We all feel a little lost sometimes, now more than ever. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the uncertainty that surrounds us. To be kept awake by the endless string of unanswered questions, to have no idea what kind of world awaits you tomorrow, and to be left directionless and just sleepwalking from one day to the next. Rather than search harder for meaning and stability, sometimes the best course of action is not to fight the current. Sometimes the only respite when feeling lost is choosing where to lose yourself; being able to shut out the world and dream of something better. That’s exactly the kind of escape offered by ‘Heading Nowhere’, the latest single from Swedish singer/songwriter Simon Alexander. Taken from his forthcoming debut album A Place Called Home, the airy folk arrangement, hazy ambient soundscapes and haunting harmonies transports you to idyllic dream world. The perfect blissful sanctuary from a world gone mad, a calm and comforting respite from the storms that rage both without and within all of us. Having already wowed us with his In The Rust EP at the beginning of the year, and now with this serene slice of his debut album, Simon is far from “heading nowhere”, instead he keeps on proving to be one of the most consistently brilliant songwriters in 2020.

Top Tracks: Callum Pitt – Fault Lines

There is far more that unites us than divides us, though sadly it seems there are plenty of people who would have you believe otherwise. People who get off on stoking division and inciting rampant ignorance. Politicians and tabloids demonising immigrants and the less fortunate, letting the foul plague of prejudice sweep society, either to serve their own agendas or simply as there’s a cold festering void where their heart should be. At times the hateful clamouring rings so loud that basic human empathy is made to seem completely alien, and you begin to wonder if there’s any compassion and understanding left in the world. Thankfully tracks like the indie folk splendour of ‘Fault Lines’ serve as a reminder that there are other frustrated people out there, with open hearts and open minds, who are more inclined to build bridges than throw up walls. With lines like “We rise and fall under the weight of words that fan the flames of hatred, When we demonise we form a mind that will not be persuaded”, Callum Pitt perfectly captures the uphill battle we face in order to erode years of discrimination and division through discourse and education. With Callum’s discerning lyricism delivered alongside infectious melodies, a driven rhythm section and fantastic guitar work reminiscent of The War On Drugs, it’s just the track to turn to when you need convincing that a better world is waiting just over the horizon.

Top Tracks: Bestfriend – Last Bus in the A.M.

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.