If the loneliness of lockdown taught us anything, it’s that while absence may make the heart grow fonder, that does nothing to dull the pain of being apart from the ones we love. There’s a special kind of sanctuary that comes from just being present in the moment with someone you love, and knowing someone you care about is struggling and yet being unable to hold them close is an awful burden to carry. For most of us life is now returning to normal, but for those trying to keep love alive in a long distance relationship that is normal. ‘At Least One’, the debut single from Irish singer/songwriter Étáin, details the intense longing to be there for the other person when times get tough, in ways you know you can’t, as well as the determination to keep love burning in spite of it all. Étáin’s wistful folk arrangement and ethereal, bittersweet vocals host a haunting warmth that feels like the last vestiges of sunlight clinging on to the world as the inevitability of sunset looms. While so much of what we cherish feels fleeting, here is a dreamy moment of comfort to share and revisit time and again.
It’s never too late to turn your life around. To take an honest look at your past mistakes, destructive habits and obstructive mindset, and decide that it’s time to leave that version of yourself behind and start anew. That’s not to say it’s an easy task, it takes an immense amount of reflection, determination, patience and ultimately forgiveness, but no one is so far gone that they can’t become a better version of themselves, so long as the will to change is there. And it’s that push for a clean slate that we find so aptly captured in ‘Life Number Two’. This debut single from Deathcruiser, the new project from Grizfolk’s Adam Roth, is a gorgeous slice of Americana that celebrates the strength and goodwill inherent in the human spirit. Awash with warmth and romanticism, rather than erase the old self and reduce it to ashes, it is a song that offers encouragement and a helping hand to waltz your way into a better state of being. As both a soundtrack to the new you, and as a first taste of a forthcoming EP, it’s one deeply charming new beginning.
Everyone always seems to be pushing for something new, to make progress for progress’ sake, but I feel like folks are often too quick to overlook the tried and tested. In the world of fashion for instance, trends change and looks fall out of favour but eventually circle back around into fashion. And yet, no matter what the current buzz is about, certain styles (even those tied to a particular place and time) done well will always dazzle a crowd. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it; quality always shines through. The same is true of music, and with their latest single ‘Don’t Turn’ Philadelphia based band Electric Candlelight deliver a rollicking rock’n’roller from days gone by, exquisitely crafted to get your blood pumping and put a smile on your face. With gritty vocals reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival, groovy feel-good riffs with a mountain of momentum, and brilliant character driven lyrics detailing a mobster trying and failing to make an honest living, Electric Candlelight dress to impress with a song that will never go out of style.
Losing someone close to you is never easy, but processing all that grief through a creative medium like music can be a very comforting and healing experience. However, the thought of then sharing that work with the world that special person left behind can be a deeply daunting proposition. It’s hard enough to capture all the ways they left their mark on you, and the void their absence has left in your own life, but the truth is you’re only seeing but one facet of who they are. How can you capture everything a person was, everything they meant to those that loved them most? As much as we may want to, the simple answer is you can’t. But we can preserve in a song simply that they were loved and will be dearly missed, and perhaps that is enough, as no one is ever truly gone so long as they are remembered. ‘For Michael’ is just such a track – simple, sincere, warm and loving – not trying to quantify all that was lost, just carrying his memory into a new day. A gorgeous offering recalling the golden age of singer/songwriters, it’s the most haunting, soulful and heartfelt release yet from the fabulous Francesca Louise, and is sure to resonate with anyone else who has kept a candle burning for the ones we’ve lost.
Did you know that even after centuries of practice we have no idea how acupuncture works. It does seem to work to some degree, but no one has ever been able to put a finger on why. All we’ve got to go on is that applying the right pressure in the right places can somehow relieve all the strain and tension that’s built up over time. Listening to the new track from Kentucky quartet Phourist & the Photons feels like finding that same phenomenon in musical form. ‘Are We Villains?’ feels blissful and enchanting in ways that I can’t quite wrap my head around, but the results speak for themselves; it’s a track that works to unwind and unravel all the stress weighing down on your weary bones. The idyllic psychedelic expanse of its guitar sounds, the expressiveness of the bass tone, the crystalline way the piano notes ring out like falling water droplets, how the growing complexity of the drum patterns never draw you out of the daydream the song has crafted. I can’t quite say exactly how it works as well as it does, all I can offer is my best guess, that it finds the right melodies in the right moments to make everything feel that bit better.
It’s tracks like this one which make my job incredibly difficult. Even if I was the greatest writer in the English-speaking world, there’d still be songs where my commentary adds very little. The best words I could muster would always be a mere distraction next to ‘Carry You’, as the only words that matter here are those of Dan Zimmerman. Set against a backdrop of elegant piano and sumptuous strings, ‘Carry You’ details the loss of a close friend who died from cancer. Anyone who’s known loss will find something that feels all too familiar in this exploration of grief; the sense of disbelief that refuses to fade, feeling completely lost and aimless, reflecting on all the ways they left a mark on your life and the fond memories you’ll cherish forever, all the pain, anger and emptiness left in their absence. But as familiar as it all feels, no two instances of grief are ever the same. Everyone we lose leaves behind a different void in their wake, and we each of us are left to deal with it in our own way. This tale of loss is one that only Dan Zimmerman can tell, and he does so with the utmost grace, sincerity and tenderness.
For every stage of a relationship, from butterflies to heartbreak, there’s a wealth of love songs out there. Whatever fire is burning inside you, chances are there’s a track somewhere which expresses what’s in your heart better than you ever could. Those are the songs we gravitate towards, the ones which act as a mirror for our own feelings. Rarely though do we stop and think about the person on the other end, and what it would be like for someone to bear their soul before you in song. How it must feel to have a snapshot of someone’s love for you preserved for all time; an intoxicating high unlike any other. Written about falling for another songwriter, the new single from Lydia Kaseta is all too familiar with that feeling, and ultimately shares how hard it is to let it go. ‘Hate The Day’ details a fading relationship, and the inevitability that one day all those love songs will be about someone else. It’s such a unique and refreshing new angle, performed with real sincerity and expressiveness.
It can be hard to admit, both to yourself and others, when things are getting bad. You tell yourself that you’re on top of it when in reality you’re barely holding on treading water. You throw up walls and refuse help as it feels like admitting defeat, but deep down there’s a quiet little voice calling out for rescue. The thing about holding on is that everything is alright, right up until the moment that it’s not. Once you lose that tenuous grip it’s a long way to fall. With their debut single ‘Doctor’, Melbourne based artist Leo explores walking that razor’s edge with regards to anxiety, and how difficult it can be to accept help. How attaching definitions and putting labels on that nebulous mass you’ve been pushing down for so long makes it feel more real and harder to escape. It’s easier to live in ignorant bliss than feel like someone’s project to fix up, but the hardest things in life are often the most important choices we have to make. Leo’s delicate haunting vocals and visceral unflinching lyricism remind me deeply of Julien Baker at her very best, and I adore the track’s slow burn towards a tumultuous and cathartic climax.
We may have stepped across the threshold into a new year, but safe to say it doesn’t feel like the fresh start many of us were hoping for. The pandemic still drags its feet, and all those compromises, missed opportunities and days spent hoping for light at the end of the tunnel have taken their toll. With ‘Screen of Doubt’, singer/songwriter Kate Brewer addresses the part of our lives that has come under the most strain: the connections with those we care about. As the track details the exasperating sense of distance and disconnect that comes with talking through video chats and making plans that centre on the idea of “one day”, it would have been easy for ‘Screen of Doubt’ to be a mere reflection of grim reality. Instead the track offers a more hopeful perspective; thanks in no small part to the simply exquisite saxophone and vocals reminiscent of Carole King. How thinking of the details lost when not talking in person leads you to cherish the little things you take for granted – the sparkle in the eyes when they smile, the echo of their laughter. How “making plans for when the world is the world again” keeps the hope alive by reminding us that there’s something to hold on for.
Hitting the mid-way point in this year’s list season, and it’s time to leave the industry’s most stunning visuals behind and dive headfirst into the music that most delighted our ears in 2021. The tracks that had us hitting repeat; the most anthemic singalong choruses, the most memorable earworm melodies, and the biggest bops that had us up and dancing. Here’s Belwood’s most loved songs of the past twelve months. Continue reading