I’ve never been able to grasp the fascination with New York. I’ve always seen it as somewhere hostile and unwelcoming, yet it rivals Paris as the most romanticised city in the world. Usually songs about the Big Apple are nothing more than a game of New York cliche bingo, so it’s refreshing to hear a song tackle the darker side of the big city. Canadian born singer/songwriter wonderfully contrasts the coldness of the city with the warm Americana glow of his new track ‘Lonely in America’. The age old adage of “if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere” neglects to mention how isolating and demoralising it can be for the vast swathes of people who risk everything for the city’s promises only to come up short. Noah’s latest golden track from his new album America, Dreaming stands in solidarity with anyone who’s ever felt like a spare part rattling around some vast and unforgiving machine.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of bright and breezy indie rock. But when it lurks around every corner sometimes it leaves you longing for something with a bit more bite. You yearn for the sort of song you that makes you feel like a total badass whilst walking down the street. The kind of track where merely pressing play feels like it could conjure a leather jacket and a pair of shades into existence on your person. ‘Cigarettes’ is just such a track. Positively swimming in attitude, this gritty garage rocker from London quintet Black Calavera feels effortlessly cool, walking that indescribable fine line between fierce and nonchalant. There’s plenty of substance to go along with all that style however, with robust bass tones, a blistering guitar solo and vivacious vocals ensuring the band have you right where they want you; squarely in the palm of their hand.
We humans are creatures of habit. We dislike change. Sometimes even when it is change for the better. ‘Strange Game’, the new single from Irish indie outfit Columbia Mills, knows this all too well. The track explores how addiction can define us and the relationships we form. In choosing to get clean and be a better person you can end up alienating those that loved you for your faults. What follows is a struggle between self-improvement and trying to maintain those bonds forged upon shaky foundations. The music itself also plays into this dichotomy, dealing in the same kind of bittersweet embrace as The National. The bright melodies with a dark undercurrent swirling beneath, and the peculiar balance that leaves you feeling both empty and energized all at once, reminded me particularly of ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’. This first single from their forthcoming album CCTV, due next year, certainly feels like a sign for great things on the horizon.
It’s all too easy to feel lost in this day and age, to feel caught in a bleak existence with no visible way forward. Between a dying planet, growing divisions in all corners of society, and the hateful and corrupt holding all the power, there is a lot to be angry about in 2019. As tempting as it may be, the new single from Jordan Mackampa doesn’t succumb to rage, instead advocating the Marvin Gaye school of thought that “war is not the answer, only love can conquer hate”. Venting your ire at a broken system only gets you so far, real progress can only come from having a vision of a better world to work towards. With the comforting embrace of his soulful vocals, Jordan sets out his vision for a bright new dawn, and asks the question “what am I to do now?”. Not as the query of someone lost and aimless, but as someone determined to make a change for the better, one act of love and kindness at a time. ‘What Am I’ is the kind of song that restores your faith in humanity and makes you believe for a while that one person can actually make a difference.
Great songs are born twice; first when the artist puts the story they wish to tell and the feelings they wish to express to music, and the second time when the song eventually gets released into the world. That is when a song takes on new life in people’s minds. They attach their own feelings to it, form their own stories, make the song their own. Be it the kind of song suited to staring out the window on a rainy day contemplating life, or for striding down the street with head held high feeling like the world can’t touch you, great songs spark the imagination of all who hear them. Wreathed in menace and mystery, ‘Pickaxe’ is the kind of song that could take on a million and one different meanings. For me the ominous atmosphere, equally menacing and melancholy, conjures up images of some grizzled old gunslinger in the wild west; feared by all and sundry, but tired of a life on the run. Where will this glorious piece of gothic Americana lead you? What will you discover?
There is no sensation in the world that compares with the rush of being intimate with the one you love. Of holding them close and being so in love and connected that you are like one spirit. So interwoven in mind and body that you lose your grasp of where they end and you begin, and beyond that connection all else just falls away forgotten. A serene surrender in the face of a force of nature that can just blot out the whole world. It’s the greatest escape a person can experience, and one that indie pop singer/songwriter Alice Ella captures perfectly on her new single ‘Somewhere Else’. It’s a sensation that is equal parts peaceful and overwhelming, and it inhabits the very essence of this track. With crystalline vocals and nuanced electronics perfect for fans of London Grammar, she manages to find the words to describe the feeling better than just about any other songwriter I’ve heard.
You often hear complaints about songs sounding the same, about acts following trends instead of playing around with new sounds. One complaint that you don’t hear nearly as often, but which is every bit as relevant and pressing, is how the same rule applies to lyrics. There are so many bands out there addressing the same old subjects in much the same way as many others before them. The upside however is that it makes songs like ‘Slow TV’, that catch you off-guard with their outside the box thinking, all the more refreshing. This latest single from Glaswegian quintet Wojtek The Bear takes a creative view of how people can go from being your entire world to being complete strangers. It posits how someone you were once close to could die suddenly and you’d be none the wiser. The band then takes this curious train of thought and injects it with a heaping helping of wry wit and adorns it in light-hearted melodies. With an endearingly macabre video to boot, ‘Slow TV’ is one of the most unique and interesting tracks I’ve heard in 2019.
It’s hard to find meaning in routine. It’s hard to feel a sense of purpose when you keep experiencing the same patterns in life, no matter how hard you try to break away and do things differently. Humans are creatures of habit, we live our lives according to cycles and habits, often without even realising it. ‘Into The Dark’ details a desire to break free from the system, but ultimately being too caught up in it to see a way out. However I’d be thankful to be stuck in such a loop if it meant repeat listens of this track. Amsterdam based indie pop artist Micha de Jonge, under his moniker Kita Menari, offers shimmering synths, an infectious groove and a chorus so aglow with glorious melodies that it could make even the most mundane of days feel extraordinary. This first single from forthcoming EP Dreaming All The Time is a song which, contrary to its message, you will find yourself coming back to like clockwork.
We all need somewhere safe to retreat to when the world is getting us down. A sanctuary to call our own when life gets hard. Whether it’s somewhere physical, curled up under the covers with a hot chocolate and your favourite film, or a haven within your own mind to escape to, like a cherished memory to bring you solace and comfort. The debut single from promising singer/songwriter Liv Harris doesn’t just describe such an escape, but also provides one for the listener. ‘Hideaway’ starts with little more than Liv’s airy vocals and a bright and elegant piano, but soon builds into something far more anthemic and uplifting with its nuanced and atmospheric electronica. What begins as merely light shining through the cracks soon grows into a dazzling beacon to banish the darkness that clouds your mind. It’s the kind of song where you don’t know whether you want to broadcast it to the whole world or keep it all for yourself as your own little secret escape.
We all have a touch of wanderlust in our youth. A thirst for adventure, a yearning for a change of scenery, a longing to see more of the world than just the same familiar patch we see every day. It’s easy to see the appeal, but the reality of seeking new endeavours often isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Swedish singer/songwriter Simon Alexander leads you down just such an uncertain path on his new single ‘Move Steady’, taken from his forthcoming EP In The Rust. Channeling a bit of Mumford & Sons’ Wilder Mind, this fine piece of folk pop details the toll that comes with leaving your life behind. Not only are you diving headfirst into a strange new world, you also leave behind a big part of what made you who you are. Even with someone by your side to share the experience it can be a challenging road to follow. There are plenty of songs out there that revel in the allure in the open road; it’s refreshing to hear an artist be so open and honest about the doubts and struggles that come with it.