Especially in such uncertain times as these, it is easy to feel lost in a sea of possibility. So much of what the future holds is a mystery, so much of our lives is left up to chance. When you stop and think about it you realise that everything that lies before us is unknown. We have no idea if we’re following the right path or hurtling headlong towards failure. Perhaps there is no path, no rhyme and reason to it all, and we’re just caught on the breeze following the whims of fate. It’s a daunting prospect, like standing on the shore staring out at a seemingly endless ocean, the vast unknown leaving you feeling insignificant and adrift. You can try to run from that feeling, or you can follow the call of ‘Open Sea’ and embrace it. This stunning single invites you to open your heart to uncertainty. To welcome the endless possibilities with open arms and see the daunting expanse as a sign that there a greater things out there than what you think you know. From it’s bittersweet, dreamlike haze, tinged with apprehension, the sudden of thunder of drums echo the beating of your heart as you take the plunge and let the waves take you where they will.
Sometimes the voice that most commands a room and seizes your utmost attention is not a roar, but a whisper. A hypnotic hush that seems to almost ride the silence rather than break it, that calls upon you to drop everything and take in every exquisite detail. The arresting hushed vocals of Billie Flynn offer just such an experience with her spellbinding debut single ‘Hey Stranger’. Her beautifully hazy and wistful performance adds to the emotional weight of an already moving track. Detailing that moment of introspection that comes from bumping into someone who’s no longer a part of your life, and how somewhere amongst all the thoughts of nostalgia, curiosity and regret, you find yourself wondering how they see you now and what they think of the person you’ve become. With vocals as ethereal and enchanting as a misty morning, an understated soundscape that conjures images of the rise and fall of waves upon the shore by her home on the Cornish coast, and a warmth like the parting golden glow of a summer sunset, ‘Hey Stranger’ is an absolute delight. Billie Flynn is an inspired new signing for Gabrielle Aplin’s Never Fade Records, and after such an assured debut single I’m eager to hear more.
I don’t think we’ve given ourselves enough credit for everything we endured in 2020. We all likely found our mental health dragged down numerous times throughout the pandemic by the dread and stress of it all. Just when it seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel, you’d find your spirit faltering under the strain once again; and by the time you’d finished picking up the pieces, convincing yourself that things had turned around, the whole vicious cycle just starts over again. It’s frustrating, it’s tiring, and it’s a struggle that’s deftly depicted in the new single by rising star Emilia Tarrant. But while ‘Here You Are, Again’ was inspired by the lows of lockdown, for many it’s a familiar struggle even when not in unprecedented times. Recovery isn’t a straight path up and out, setbacks always strike out of the blue at the most random and difficult times, and Emilia’s candid lyricism will feel familiar and comforting no matter what burden you carry. With a strong and assured vocal performance, and an enticing slow-burning atmosphere that knows when to hold back, this raw and thoughtful track marks out Emilia Tarrant as one to watch.
I can categorically say that I’m not a morning person, and I’m willing to bet that most people feel much the same way. Most mornings however, aren’t half as blissful and heart-warming as those detailed in ‘Leave Me Light’. I imagine we’d all be morning people if we were lucky enough to greet the day in the fashion described in the new single from London based singer/songwriter FERGUS. Describing a tranquil morning spent savouring the soft caress of the one you love, basking in every second shared together before it’s time to get up and face the world, this track hones in on the beauty found within the smallest moments. Likewise you’ll find yourself wanting to revel in every detail of this charming track; the vivid yet relatable imagery, the delicate soothing folk arrangement of the first half of the song, and the slick R&B flourishes and solo guitar work in the latter half. ‘Leave Me Light is a brilliant reminder that true love isn’t about grand gestures of devotion, but about finding someone that makes every mundane morning feel like a fairy tale.
If there’s any positive I can take away from the seemingly endless months spent in lockdown, it is a greater appreciation for my home in the countryside. For years I quietly resented being out in the middle of nowhere, feeling detached from all the exciting hustle and bustle of city streets. But with life grinding to a halt, I found there’s no place I’d rather be right now. Where once I envied friends in the fast lane, I now wish I could share my oasis with them and offer an escape from their cramped boxes in an empty concrete jungle. The morning chorus of birdsong that welcomes you to a new day, the cool caress of the summer breeze against your skin, lush fields of wildflowers and the delicate flutter of butterflies adding much needed colour to the greyest of days. Even something so simple as the fresh air in your lungs and the warm sun beaming down, the kind of things you take for granted, do so much to bring a lightness to your heart. Singer/songwriter Michael Lane is distinctly familiar with that sense of comfort and release that nature brings on his brand new single ‘Moon & Sun’. This beautifully bright folk tune shares the uplifting spiritual sensation of basking in the everyday marvels around you. The life-affirming feeling that you’re a small part of this vast wondrous world around you, and that it in turn is a part of you.
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.