To say that the past twelve months have been utterly bizarre and incredibly challenging would be a massive understatement, but in a few days time we’ll finally be able to put 2020 behind us. There’s no better time then to look back at all the golden moments of joy and beauty that have kept us sane throughout it all. Once again we’ll be kicking things off by looking at the most striking album artwork to have caught our eye this past year.
Some music just instantly evokes a certain season. There’s something about the seminal folk style of Nick Drake for instance that to my mind feels deeply rooted in autumn. It just naturally ends up conjuring images of golden leaves caught in the breeze, of watching the rain tumble down your window pane, and of a bonfire’s embers rising into the night sky. With ‘Chinatown’, the title track of his latest EP, singer/songwriter George Boomsma brings a shift in seasons to his Nick Drake inspired sound. All the familiar hallmarks are there – the wistful wandering acoustic guitar, the soft spoken vocals, the elegant string arrangements and the raw and rustic production style – but George’s own romantic lyricism adds a kind of warmth to the mix. Somehow ‘Chinatown’ instead conjures images of an idyllic summer; of picnics in the park, walking hand-in-hand along the riverbank, and of a love growing and blossoming like a field of wildflowers. With a grim and uncertain winter ahead of us, here is a track whose comforting folk style is perfect for getting cosy with, but which also offers a promise of brighter days ahead.
They say that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but I’ve always had my doubts. It can be very hard to subscribe to that way of thinking when you find yourself consumed by heartbreak. You can’t miss what you’ve never known. If you never met that person, never gave them your heart unreservedly, then you would live in ignorant bliss without knowing just how happy they could make you feel. To my mind experiencing a joy like no other, only to lose that feeling and have your heart torn asunder, seems like a far more torturous prospect. Lyrically, ‘Better Than Dead’ is about being haunted by the echoes of the past. Struggling to drown out the deafening silence that their absence has left. Seeing reminders of better times and feeling the sting of knowing that it’s now all just a fading memory. Musically however, this new track from indie maestro Brian Elliot magnificently maintains a calm and cool exterior, like wearing a smile to hide the hurt. With sweeping string arrangements, a wonderfully retro Super 8 music video, and crooning vocals reminiscent of Alex Turner, this cinematic new single from his forthcoming debut Familiar Walk To Nowhere feels effortlessly elegant and thoroughly engrossing.
The perfect person doesn’t exist, no matter what the media may say otherwise. We’re all constantly being bombarded with these manufactured little pockets of perfection that set impossibly high standards for ourselves and others, but beneath it all there’s always another side to the story. For every flawless portrait there’s a dishevelled mess stumbling out of bed that morning. For every budding romance there are the scars of rejection and heartbreak. For every golden success story there’s someone picking themselves up after they fell at yet another hurdle. Rather than shy away from the little moments of humanity that we’re all too keen to hide, Belwood favourite Cristina Hart makes sure to put them square in the spotlight. Her long awaited debut EP Sell a Dream plays like a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance. An empowering pop powerhouse to remind you that your imperfections are part of who you are, and to embrace them unapologetically.
On ‘I’m A Mess’ Cristina pokes fun at her own flaws, as well as at our eagerness to pretend that we’ve all got our shit together, when in reality no one has a clue. Learning to love yourself is no easy task, but ‘Bad Girlfriend’ addresses the even more daunting prospect of letting your guard down for someone you love, and trusting them to accept you – baggage and all. The fiery ‘Vanilla’ meanwhile sees her come out fighting, taking a defiant stand against those who would have her be someone she’s not. Each stunning single is packed to the brim with the kind of euphoric pop production and infectious earworm melodies that make you want to cast all inhibitions aside and dance your worries away. Cristina saves the best till last though, with the beautiful balladry of ‘Will You’. It’s here that all the finery is stripped away, and against the elegant piano arrangement we get the chance to bask in her truly breath-taking vocals. Cristina’s stunning range, as well as her relatable lyricism and unwavering positive energy, put her in a class all her own. And while there may be no such thing as perfection, there’s still not a thing I would change about this brilliant debut.
Fans of Ariana Grande, Maisie Peters and Lauren Aquilina should check out Cristina’s debut EP Sell a Dream out now.
Hannah Grace – Remedy
Occasionally the right song will fall into your life just when you need it most, to say exactly what you need to hear. This year has seen the blog busier than ever, and at times I’ve been drowning under the weight of submissions and the pressure to cover as many as possible. Whenever writer’s block hits and throws a spanner in the works, putting me even further behind, it’s hard not to see it as a failure, as me letting people down. ‘Clearer’, the new track from London based producer and songwriter T. Evann, is just the reminder I needed that those stagnant phases are all part of the process. You wouldn’t push any other part of your body to be firing on all cylinders without time to rest and recuperate, so we owe it to ourselves to give the creative side of our brains a break every now and then. Rather than banging your head against the wall, take a step back and trust that there’s a fresh burst of inspiration waiting just ahead. Taken from his upcoming EP Headblush, out 8th December, ‘Clearer’ carries a timeless psychedelic sound. Its warm summery tones offering a welcoming embrace, the soothing laidback vibes breaking down the stress brick by brick, while the swirling vibrant soundscapes are just what you need to untether your imagination.
The best things in life are worth fighting for, even if it occasionally means clashing with those we care about. Even with those we hold closest to our hearts, the ones we love and our dearest friends and family, you’re likely to fall out every once in a while. The mark of a strong relationship isn’t making out that everything is perfect, but through confronting problems and ultimately emerging stronger on the other side. That said, sometimes we can find ourselves chasing an “other side” that simply isn’t there. You can end up fighting tooth and nail with someone to keep them in your life, only to be blinded to the fact that the fight is all you know. ‘Unwinnable War’ is the realisation that they’re not worth the energy. Belwood favourite Sophie Morgan has really outdone herself with this latest single. Her vocals carry the same distinctive warmth and elegance as ever, and yet somehow every sublime lyric seems to roll off her tongue with more clarity and meaning than ever before. The soft and sparse arrangement swaying back and forth, punctuated with a brief mournful howl of guitar. The bittersweet melodies that tug at your heartstrings and linger in your thoughts. There’s no fight when it comes to loving this song, it welcomes you with open arms. This stunning single is a poignant reminder that sometimes the bravest course you can take isn’t to keep fighting, but to admit that it’s time to walk away.
Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods
Gothic Folk | Progressive Rock
The music industry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; beneath all the glitz and glamour there are some toxic folk around. More specifically, there have always been the petty few who get their kicks through gatekeeping. Eager to lord whatever meagre power they posses over new acts and dangle the promise of success over them. Things are getting better, but as in all things change for the better makes slow progress, and there are still those who cling to the old ways and insist “that’s just how it works”. Drawing from his own experiences within the industry, and having been on the receiving end of those exact same words, Nashville based singer/songwriter Ben Cramer reflects on the struggle for change with the latest single under his Old Sea Brigade moniker. Being told ‘How It Works’ doesn’t just apply to music though, it’s something we hear about all the many broken parts of society that hold people back. The hazy Americana arrangement and enthralling earworm melodies make this the ideal song to sit back and reflect on the slow march of progress around you. ‘How It Works’ is a song of real substance, and the accompanying video, of a wonderfully cinematic Western shootout in the Mojave Desert, compliments it with an extra dash of style to boot.
I’m fairly sure there’s a longing to escape ingrained within all of us. There comes a time in your youth where there’s nothing you desire more than to get away from the dead end town you grew up in and make your own way in the world. Meet new people, see the city lights, live out your dreams. The dismay of feeling trapped is one thing, but it’s nothing compared to the feeling of breaking free, spreading your wings at last, only to then come crashing back down to the same old dead end town. With ‘College Town’, Australian singer/songwriter Lawson Hull perfectly captures the sense of quiet defeat that comes with being stuck in a familiar cage. Taken from his debut EP Dreaming is Easy, the sadness and regret of his latest single really hits home with lines like “I shouldn’t be out here in the prime of my life”. Underneath it all however, there’s a warmth and familiarity to ‘College Town’ that feels like coming home. The way the track interweaves the sadness, the yearning for something greater, with the warm glow of nostalgia and an unspoken sense of acceptance, serves as a poignant reminder that sometimes it’s better the devil you know.