Rhona Stevens – Melanin

The dodgy knee has meant that I’ve been less able to get out and enjoy this week’s sunshine. My daily walk has been scrapped as the gentle hobbling inside becomes easier day by day. I’ve been invited to a clinic tomorrow and I’ll know more then about my general prognosis. Today, amongst other things, I’m feeling a little grumpy as I’m missing out on the chance of some vitamin D.

At least, there is still music. And what better way to lighten the mood than to listen to a tune about sunshine? Written to provide the listener with a little bit of warmth, the bouncy and perky ‘Melanin’ by Rhona Stevens is today’s Sonic Breakfast pick. 

 

I was feeling at the end of my tether with the cold, dark, dragging Scottish winters when I wrote Melanin.“, says Rhona in the press release. “It was a bit of escapism for me, focusing on what I wished for, living vicariously through those lyrics.

It works for me. With bright jazz, folk and indie tone, this is music to help you feel happy. It avoids the trap of becoming too sweet and saccharine though; a nutty gloss ensuring that there’s enough on offer here for it not to be simple or throwaway. 

Rhona’s got a busy year planned. She’s already released a grand follow-up single to ‘Melanin’ in ‘Lay It Down’. It would appear that the positive and spirited approach is going to be a consistent feature of her output. “I’m making an effort to release uplifting songs only this year,” she says when we exchange E-mails. “Wash the intensity and hardness away; maybe soften into spring time and dare I say, look forward to the summer months?!

She’s got the next few months all thought through. “Firstly, a haircut and then to a beer garden. My grand plan though is to spend some time at my family home in the countryside and then travel onto the Highlands and island to visit friends there – as soon as I can. I haven’t left the city since the brief hiatus for Christmas so some fresh air and hill walking is definitely beckoning.

Ooh- hill walking. Now I’m just feeling envious. I guess that’ll be a little way off for me. Still, the rays of the sun feel good and a little bit of melanin will surely not fail to perk me up. 

 

 

Tanoki (featuring Farah Elle) – Loading

It’s a perk of the music blogger’s life that you get to listen to a lot of music. Some of it gets sent to me by E-mail. I might not always respond because I receive a lot of mails but acts with the right approach will invariably get through. Just recently, I’ve been making use of the website, Musosoup, to source bands and songs that I want to write about. There’s an option within the site to charge acts money for the words that I cobble together about them. For some websites, it seems important to make their product into a commercial enterprise. Sonic Breakfast has never and will never be that site. No funds are exchanged between me and the bands I write warmly about. I do this for the love. 

One immediate turn-off for me in the music I hear is if no thought has been given to the lyrical content. It happens with appalling regularity. It’s almost as if the songwriters of today are deliberately encouraged to write vacuous couplets with limited meaning; you actually find yourself wondering in the most extreme cases if they’ve just left their computers to generate a random pattern of words based upon cliched phrases from millions of songs from the past. 

 

Tanoki’s latest single, Loading, draws influence from this idea. “The song is a commentary on what we’re doing with technology and how it’s intersecting with our lives.“, says Paul Mahon, the Kilkenny-based songwriter, producer and visual artist behind Tanoki. “As we lose what makes us human in exchange for the robotic, I want listeners to imagine the kind of lyrics that might come from an android, the cyborgs we’re becoming.

Tanoki enlists the services of singer-songwriter, Farah Elle, to provide a hypnotic vocal over the funked-up, trip-hop grounded, electronica that he’s created. Farah is an interesting character. With roots in both Libya and Ireland, Farah is proud of her Mum for taking a significant role in leading the way against the tyranny of the Gadaffi regime (from within Ireland). You suspect that Farah Elle will not be short of things to say or lyrics to write and mark her down as another to watch. Paul and Farah became friends and collaborators after he directed a music video of hers. 

Human content and human stories – it’s what we want. 

TIËRNY – Lonely Are The Brave

I made no post yesterday. I feel a sense of personal disappointment when this happens. There was good reason though. I woke and after a call to 111, Sarah quite rapidly took me into the local accident and emergency department of the nearest hospital. My leg had locked overnight at a 90 degree angle. I couldn’t straighten it at the knee. I wasn’t in pain, save for if I tried to make it straight. Then, the agony was excruciating.

I heard yesterday that Helen McCrory has passed away. I’m not one for TV series; my attention span isn’t up to much but would count Peaky Blinders as one of my all-time favourites. You can’t help but adore the family of rogues (lovable) that it observes. Polly, the part that Helen plays, is a strong matriarch that you grow to respect. Helen’s passing at the tender age of 52 reminds us all of our mortality. 

And when I was holed up, leg outstretched in a splint, only able to hobble slowly on crutches from room to room, the grief for somebody I only know on the screen was compounded. 

I was planning to feature TIĒRNY’s ‘Lonely Are The Brave’ yesterday. I had it all planned out in my head before the necessary diversion took over. But in so many ways, it fits better today. TIËRNY is from Liverpool and describes her genre as gothic alt-pop. On ‘Lonely Are The Brave’ we find her exploring themes of love, loss and isolation. When I watched the video (and in advance of hearing about the news about Polly), I couldn’t help but think about the religious menace, the adverse humanity, on offer in Peaky Blinders. 

It would appear that I’m going to be forced into watching more TV series in the coming weeks as I find ways to rest my left leg. 

Arbor Green – As We Grow

If you’re going to take a dip in the North Sea in January you either have to be much hardier than I am or extremely desperate to feel something new!” – Ali Begg, Arbor Green

I’ve been reading about the growing amount of people who take cold showers in the morning. They’re often the same people who find unfathomable amounts of pleasure in cold water wild swimming. Without wetsuit, they plunge into lakes, rivers and pools without a care in the world. They talk evangelically about the health benefits that such extreme activity is providing; it helps with mental agility, daily concentration and in boosting energy levels. As good as that all sounds, I’m not sure that the ‘freezing your nuts off’ treatment is for me. 

I suspect the same is true for Ali Begg, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind emerging Scottish indie-folk act, Arbor Green. In the recent video for their glorious track, As We Grow, we find Ali dunking his body into the sea at a wintry Edinburgh beach.  “I spent a solid hour shivering in a cocoon of towels after that.“, he tells me. “I dunno how all the middle-aged cold water swimmers do it. They’re out there in all fucking seasons.

There is a method to his madness though. The perky and upbeat folk tune dowsed with a liberal sprinkling of Americana masks a lyric that questions ‘the daily grind of a listless reality’. We’re all desperately pursuing the next thing that’ll give us happiness, those moments that’ll lift us out of the general mundanity of life. This is not a happy tale, rather it’s a gloomy, wry reflection on the human condition.   

So I’ll fight like hell, And I’ll hide like a kid, And I’ll scream that I am just so sick of this, All I want is to be gone.“, sings Ali in one key moment of ‘As We Grow’. 

Arbor Green have recently released a new single, Waiting On The Sun. It’s all part of the build-up to the release of a debut-album in the next few months. If the releases so far are indicative of the quality across the album then we’re all in for an alt-country treat. Ali’s delighted that Roddy Hart has been playing the latest single on Radio Scotland. It’s easy to see why it has been getting airplay though. You should check out that single as well. 

But today, take the plunge with ‘As We Grow’.. 

 

 

Scalawag – You On My Mind

I hope we’ve all experienced those hopeless days of infatuation at the start of the best relationships when you can’t get the other out of your head. The very thought of them makes you smile broadly even if you’re miles apart. You can’t wait to spend time with them; you experience butterflies in your tummy just in advance of seeing your partner again. Time spent with them feels so right and you never want it to stop. 

It does of course. The ga-ga feeling that accompanies your stuttering heart is not a sustainable one and probably not a healthy one. Practical realities come back to the fore and you find ways to work out how to be together outside of the first throes of love. Either that or you move on to somebody else so that you can circle back to the hopeless days of infatuation again. A fluttering feeling on repeat. 

Scalawag’s latest single ‘You On My Mind’ is all about those early days in a new relationship. From Vancouver, Teo Saefkow, the man behind Scalawag, explains more in the press release to the song. “I wrote the guitar in 2015, then I waited for 5 years for inspiration to strike for the lyrics” says Teo. “It came one day in early 2020 when I was noodling on the guitar, and I decided to try and make my partner smile. I improvised the lyrics, and they just kinda stuck.

There clearly aren’t enough songs in the world making reference to peanut butter and for that reason alone ‘You On My Mind’ deserves a Sonic Breakfast blogpost about it. It’s also delightfully playful – a gentle acoustic guitar sound merging with a few choice piano flourishes to build into a climax of trumpet and whistles. Sweet, unfettered love sure does sound nice in Teo’s world. He plays all of the instruments himself. “It’s important to me that I create as many of the sounds myself as possible, instead of using stock instruments or samples,“, he says, about the creative process. 

Teo’s having a good, happy year. “2021 has been pretty good so far, there’s a lot of hope in the air, and the weather has been pretty awesome in Vancouver!“, he says when we exchange E-mails. “I’ve been able to write and record a lot, so that’s definitely the biggest highlight. Once the restrictions start to relax I think the first thing I’ll do is just go eat at a restaurant!

The mood around the UK feels similarly positive. Spring is in the air and we wake to blue sky and birdsong. Lockdown relaxations continue to offer improved freedoms (pub anyone?) and I sense a happy Wednesday song will be more than appreciated. 

Elliot Joe Whitehead – Let It Slide

Being stubborn has its place. It feels good when in the midst of an argument to stick our feet firmly in the mud. We know that our position is the right one and we’re not going to budge. Not ever.

This is all well and good for a while but if your encounter is with somebody equally intransigent, it’s not long before the situation is one of impasse. And both parties are just left incredibly miserable by the fact that no progress is being made. Some will choose to never resolve; it’s not in their nature to give ground or to negotiate. But others will see that the original argument was a thing of nonsense and look for ways to reconcile. 

 

That’s the position that Elliot Joe Whitehead finds himself in his catchy-as-hell debut single, ‘Let It Slide’. With a monosyllabic, baritone delivery style, Elliot draws upon all sorts of 80’s influence and DIY charm to issue his own apology. Think Phil Oakey experimenting in his lounge and you mightn’t be too far away from the overall effect. You hope that, by teatime, Elliot has done enough to turn the squelchy mud into a slide that the happy (again) couple can skate over. Top work. 

Elliot , by his own admission an “essentially unknown artist from Greenwich, South-East London, with strong ties to Brighton“, is modestly surprised at the response received about ‘Let It Slide’ since releasing it on Valentine’s Day. “I never really expected it.“, he says when we exchange E-mails. 

He’s now energised for the future months. “First thing out of lockdown is to make a video for my third single, then release the second and then start rehearsals for gigs and then release the third single with a video!“, he tells me. “I’ve got it all figured out! – I think…

Just a few days ago, Elliot added a live performance of ‘Let It Slide’ to YouTube to sit alongside the lyric video. I provide both here because I think they offer a real insight into the DIY ethic of the man. 

Sonic Breakfast likes the energy and looks forward to the future releases (unreservedly and without apology).

 

Aidan & The Wild – Running

I’m an occasional runner. Many moons ago, I’d take it quite seriously and have a record of plodding around a variety of half-marathon courses. Work colleagues who know me now still look at me incredulously when I mention that I once even ran a full marathon. It’s not something that I could do now. 

In fact, back last year in the midst of the first lockdown, I decided to take it all up again. I went online and bought some kit with which I could run around the park that’s opposite. I had the ‘From Couch to 5k’ app on my phone and some whizzy songs designed to make the experience forgettable that I’d listen to if it got too much. I knew it would be tough but I had no idea it would be that tough. Gasping for air, unable to catch my breath for hours after each run, I simply couldn’t get through what was being asked of me from week one of the app. I’m not proud to say that I gave up. My new running shoes (that weren’t a great fit for my heavy stomp) sit relatively pristine in the hallway. I keep threatening myself that I ought to pick it up again now. I doubt I ever will.

Diederik van den Brandt is the man behind Aidan & The Wild. The musician from Eindhoven felt a similar desire to me during the initial lockdown. His running career appears to have become more of a routine though, albeit slight. “I actually overdid the running in the first two weeks and had to tone it down because of an ache in my joints.”, says Diederik when we exchange e mails. “Since then it’s been a very periodical thing!

But Diederik was able to write a pretty neat song about the experience. Warming us up with a gentle folk stroll, it’s not long before we’re striding along in time with the Americana influences. Diederik’s ‘disarmingly honest’ breathy vocal sits on top of it all to form a perfect work-out. “This song has become a description of that first run after six years of no real exercise, and the rapidly changing world that forced this event.“, says Diederik by way of summary.

Commentating about the state of the world is something that’s clearly important for Aidan & The Wild. Diederik has followed up on the release of ‘Running’ with a second single from the forthcoming album,’Revelation Never Came’. In ‘It’s Alright’, we find Diederik in cautionary mode, describing a world that is clearly anything but OK. It’s a track that has the same Americana wallow of ‘Running’ and yet one that further cements Aidan & The Wild as ones to keep an eye on. 

I’ll have to catch them first. Now, where are those trainers? 

 

Another Vision – Heartbeat

I make no apology for the longer length of today’s Sonic Breakfast post. It’s a weekend after all and we have more time to read and write, to convey and listen, to think and be.

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen’s husband for donkeys years died on Friday aged 99. The media in the UK is awash with stories about how great the man was. I rather suspect that he wasn’t as flawless as he’s being presented. This isn’t a blog post about him though. 

My Nan, born as Frances but known throughout her life as Sally, also passed away aged 99. She desperately clung to life in those latter years despite her short term memory failing her. She wanted to get her telegram from the Queen for reaching a century. Sadly, it didn’t happen. It’s my Nan who I’ve thought about most this weekend whilst the TV coverage provided an endless showreel of Philip’s ‘great’ works of charity. Her wonderful warm nature, enduring laughter and effervescent fizz was unforgettable to all who met her.

When my Nan died, letters that she proudly clung to were found in her bedside cabinet. They were love letters from my George, my Grandad. “Whatever did I see in George Fripp“, my Nan would mischievously joke in her latter years. We could all see beyond the joke though to know that their companionship was a thing of strength and beauty. 

The love letters from George are an amazing read. A man of the countryside, a solid oak, he was not (I imagine) prone to floral language or the poetry of the romantics. And yet, in these letters that document a specific time in the lives of Sally and George, the ruddy emotion of his love flows strong. 

My Nan has travelled to Vienna. It is the 1930’s and I assume the menace of Naziism must loom large – though no reference of the external political scene is made. Nan is on an extended vacation. She’s visiting an Austrian friend, an expert cake-maker, and is learning baking skills to bring back home to the kitchen in which she works. My Grandad works in the stables on the same estate.

The scrawl fades but the words are still visible. Grandad must have been pressing hard, tightly grasping the pencil as he carves out his craft. It becomes clear that George has proposed to Sally just before she left for Austria but my Nan, perhaps shocked by his demonstration of affection, has delayed with her answer. “I’ll give you my answer on my return from Vienna,”, she says. 

But as the story develops and the letters grow in number, it’s clear that Sally is having a change of heart. Perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder but in one landmark letter from my Grandad, it becomes evident that the proposal has been accepted. “You make me the happiest man in all of England“, says George before suggesting that he should obtain the permission of parents whilst Sally is away. The language is agricultural and elemental but starkly beautiful. I read the letters to cheer myself up if ever I’m feeling down.

Vienna holds quite a place in my heart. It’s delicious to know that it was from the city, surrounded by sugary whirls and chocolate swirls, that part of my family history is secured. I’ve been there a couple of times but would like to spend longer exploring in the future. The last time I visited was as part of the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s fair to say that my memories of that weekend are blurred by drunken excess and all-night parties. 

Michael Schmücking is one half of Another Vision. Until recently, he lived and loved in Vienna until moving back to his hometown, Innsbruck. He remembers the Eurovision in Vienna well. “That was a special summer in Vienna I’d say,“, says Michael. “I was never that interested in EVSC but we spent the night at Cafe Savoy at Naschmarkt to watch the Vienna edition, wich was a total blast!

Another Vision have recently released a single, Heartbeat. It’s atmospheric, grainy pop; the analog synths offering more than a nod to an Eighties influence. Restrained at the start but one that you know will erupt into a storm of emotion, the impending sense of loss is never far away. “You fade away, I let go. Memories, I want to hold on“, sing Another Vision in the chorus – simply and effectively summing up the longing at the heart of Heartbeat.

I moved from Vienna back to our hometown Innsbruck in Tyrol, which is also part of the whole story around our upcoming songs as well as in Heartbeat.“, says Michael about the tune. “Moving is a strange thing these times I’d say.

Here at Sonic Breakfast, I’d tend to agree. Heartbeat is equal parts romantic and sad, optimistic and reflective. It seems highly appropriate for a weekend such as this. 

 

Brophy’s Law – The Bachelor

As another weekend approaches, we can almost celebrate that this’ll be the last that we have to endure (in the UK) without pubs. Yes, it’ll only be outside spaces and gardens that will be open from Monday but at least we’ll all be able to get the pints in again. Of course, there will be stipulations, not least that tables will need to be booked and they’ll likely be at a premium given our collective thirst but it’s a step in the right direction. 

The reopening of pubs will no doubt be warmly received by The Bachelor, the lead character in the recently-released all-time favourite live track from Brophy’s Law. The Bachelor is a man who likes a drink. Indeed, crucial life decisions are made by him based on his ability to stay close to the bar. He avoids marriage and long-term relationships because drinking at the bar is of more importance. 

I’m sure we all know people like The Bachelor. Indeed, I’ve never been married and have spent more than my fair share of time propped up on a barstool. Others, looking on in from the outside, might perceive that this song is a fair description of my life. I’d deny such accusations pointing to the wealth of extra-curricular interests I have. But I concede that those who rarely go to pubs are on another spectrum in comparison to my good self.

Brophy’s Law specialise in good-time, traditional Irish folk with a punk(ish) seam. They cite the glory days of The Pogues and the creative spirit of The Clash as major influences and that can certainly be seen within The Bachelor. This is music that you want to dance wildly to at a festival – let’s hope that some will go ahead this year and we’ll get our chance to spill our ciders (and Guinness) as we stumble into accidental mosh pits and declare that all is grand with the world. Brophy’s Law might well have festival appearances and a tour to Canada to look forward to in August though I suppose that could be on hold depending upon the speed that we get back to something approaching normality.

The opening of pub gardens (after this weekend and in the UK) signals another step forward. Wishing you all a spirited weekend when it comes. 

King Casio – Big Truck

I loved my two trips to Groningen for the Eurosonic festival. They formed part of a perfect January break. As snow and sleet fell all around and I stomped from venue to venue across the city dressed like an Eskimo, I probably took the freedom of it all for granted. Packed bars and clubs hosted the finest up and coming acts from across Europe and I was in my element. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

On that first trip to Groningen, I had a brief conversation with some cool dudes at Southend Airport. You can read about that encounter here. I’ve since written about L.A. Salami and Francobollo a few times for eFestivals and have always made an effort to see them live when they’ve been on a festival bill. The brief encounter at the airport was one of those fortuitous moments that life keeps spinning back to.

 

I was thus very happy to hear about the make-up of King Casio. An Anglo-Swedish trio formed between vocalist Aaron King and members of Francobollo, they specialise in psychedelic Lo-fi ambles. King Casio’s first two singles had videos directed by L.A. Salami but I’ll let you review those in your own time. Today, let’s look at their latest release, Big Truck. 

Aaron describes ‘Big Truck’ as “happy, sad and a bit nostalgic as well. It came about through my cat getting run over and it symbolised the sudden death of a relationship. These two events informed the feel of the song, which allowed us to think about how It was sad to lose these things, but happy to have had them in the first place.

The sudden death of a relationship and the mixed emotions that ensue – that’s clearly a universal theme that we can all get behind.

Musically, Big Truck is an awkward yet compelling track. It’s no singalong but I don’t think that entirely matters. Jazz tones and crumpled electronica give way to an off-kilter guitar gloss whilst Aaron’s vocal croons, deliberately wayward, within the mix. It’s skew-whiff brilliance, nostalgic, hypnotic and perfectly odd. And it works for me.

Apparently, King Casio and L.A. Salami were due to go on tour together this year but that’s looking increasingly unlikely now because of Covid. A shame but I’ll certainly be looking forward to those random meetings in Southend when the restrictions relax.