Bukky Sky – Amazing

I’m in Benidorm for a weekend. Taking advantage of a cheap all-inclusive hotel deal, I take it upon myself to explore the sights and sounds. Benidorm at the back-end of Summer 2020 is clearly a very different place to how it might have been in previous years; muted, more reserved and less wild, it’s a place that’s simply going through the motions. The bars are required by law to close by midnight; the nightlife is thus curtailed. A town that depends upon a mass of tourists has nothing more than a trickle of them to please. I sense the over-arching anxiety as I weave between boarded-up clubs, pubs and retail units to find one of the few open bars.

It’s in Jimmy’s Bar that I meet Matt. Jimmy’s Bar is an odd delight. A thin strip of a space, its wall and ceilings are covered with football shirts. “They’re shirts that various punters bring in for me to display“, says Jimmy, the welcoming host, originally from the North East of England. Jimmy is an entertainer, a tough-veteran of a landlord who holds court here. He doesn’t stand any nonsense but wants us all to have a grand time as he regales us with his life story. There are no other tourists here tonight; instead, it’s an assorted mix of Benidorm’s waifs and strays. Ex-pats who are running away from pain elsewhere soak up their sorrows with another pint.

Matt introduces himself and sits at my table. He’s been in Benidorm now for a few months. In his early 40’s, he left work earlier this summer and is now hopping between hotels in Benidorm taking advantage of the great deals on offer. He’s here for ‘the fanny’ and takes much delight in telling me how regularly women are ‘opening their legs’ for him. “Mate, it’s at least every night, sometimes twice a day“, says Matt. My face probably gives away that I don’t entirely believe him – Matt is no real looker after all and doesn’t appear to have much going for him – but my mistrust serves only to spark him into further story. “Take last night“, says Matt. “Fuck, she was a crazy one, beautiful but off-her-rocker, she raped me she did.”

I raise my hand to stop Matt from speaking and point out to him that as a very-willing participant, he might like to consider his use of words. Matt realises that he’s on dodgy ground and so wilts a little. His sadness seeps through and I think he’s almost about to cry. Matt doesn’t really know himself and is using his casual sex encounters (that might also only exist in his own imagination) to mask his own self-neglect. “She had a great arse though“, says Matt, back on familiar ground and reverting to form.

It’s a long intro today but it is a weekend and I make no apology for retelling this tale. There are many like Matt in the world who lurch from one sexual encounter to another hurting others (and themselves) in the process. They could all do with listening to ‘Amazing’, a fabulous jazz-noir track from the Bradford Born, London based alternative-pop music artist, Bukky Sky. 

Sounding like a quality track from Destroyer, ‘Amazing’ has it all. A gentle start gives way to wholesome strings whilst a gripping guitar line builds and falls. All paths lead to the wondrous piece-de-resistance; Bukky’s own one-minute spoken word confession. And what a confession it is. 

I’ve always been attracted to truth, in all its beauty, in all its ugliness.“, says Bukky. “I wrote this song when I was ready to turn a corner and cut away the bullshit from my character”. Here’s somebody who is able to take a long, hard, look at their behaviour to realise that they don’t want to be that person anymore. 

Do you really know love and trust, The truest aspects of yourself, Have you ever taken the time and taken the courage, To go and get to know and love yourself?“, repeats Bukky in that spoken-word section of ‘Amazing’. It’s a stunning track and I can’t wait to hear more from Bukky.

Over to you, Matt… 

Katie Kittermaster – The Problem & Lukewarm Lover

Katie Kittermaster first came onto my radar just over a year ago. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that, from time to time, I dip into Fresh On The Net’s Listening Post. Every weekend, punters get to listen to a longlist of 25 songs chosen by a bunch of moderators from which to pick your top five – this week’s iteration can be found here. Back in February 2020, I was taking a week-long break in Spain (pre-Covid feels so long ago) and recall a relaxed Saturday morning blasting music out loud when one of Katie’s tracks came on. More poppy than I might have typically chosen, Katie had something that made my ears prick up. Her tune felt solidly honest with lyrics from the heart; similarly, I immediately trusted her casual, conversational delivery. And I liked the alliteration of her name.

Katie sent me a short E-mail after I picked her tune as one of my top five. Very few acts follow up in such a way and it endeared her to me even more. For my part, rude as ever, I failed to respond and carried on reading about Caroline Flack (who was tragically in the news that weekend).

So, it’s lovely now to reinvigorate my acquaintance with Katie. She’s been super-productive over the past year releasing a series of great singles. I’ll highlight two here, The Problem and Lukewarm Lover, but if you’ve got time this weekend (and who hasn’t when we’re in lockdown?) I’d recommend digging further still. 

The Problem is a quirky, upbeat number. It’s Katie’s acknowledgement that hiding behind her chatty, bubbly exterior, there’s a worrier waiting to get out. Lukewarm Lover is about a relationship on its last legs with both parties not sure how to bring things to an end. The themes in both are universal, the honesty is diligently conveyed. 

I check in with Katie and ask how she’s getting on this year.  “I decided not to go to University and have been working on new music this year.“, she says. “Initially Zoom sessions were quite strange as working with somebody you haven’t physically met was daunting….especially as all of my songs are quite personal! But I’m writing with a lot of people now and collaborating has been really positive. In all honesty, I’ve been busier than ever – I think this has helped me to keep focused and hopeful.

Katie reveals a reason for wild celebration later this year. “My Dad hasn’t been able to return from China since February last year – he is finally coming home in June. So, not long after lockdown we will be together as a family again. This will be emotional!!!!!!

It’s testament to Katie’s positive spirit that she’s been so productive in what must have been an emotional maelstrom of a year. I like the honest endurance of her catchy pop. She’ll keep releasing singles and EPs this year. And I’ll continue to listen. 

But for now – back to my shortlisting on the Listening Post. 

 

Jon Sandman – Selfless Isolation

Something that’s struck me over the past few months is how creative and resilient people have been over the last year. You only have to do a quick scan of a few recent Sonic Breakfast posts to realise that the shit conditions many artists find themselves in have also helped them to create great work. They’ve been able to push out of their comfort zones and to realise their dreams. It’s almost become a ‘now or never’ mentality. 

It’s hard to believe that Jon Sandman has rarely performed his music live before, so assured does he sound on recent release, ‘Selfless Isolation’. But that’s what Jon confirms in our E-mail exchange. 

When lockdown eases, I really wanna get onto the open mic scene.“, says Jon. “I’ve only been releasing music since the pandemic hit, I’ve never performed any of my music live, so I think that getting into my local live music scene is the next big step for me.

You can’t help thinking that the open mic scenes in Oxford and Cambridgeshire will lap Jon up with open arms. ‘Selfless Isolation’ is a gem; literate, immediate and reflective, it chronicles the range of feelings I guess we’ve all been privy to over the last year. “Selfless Isolation’ is my ‘Ode to COVID’; a reflection on a year of loneliness.“, notes Jon. “It’s gently political – a rebuke to those responsible – but also deeply personal. Lyrically, I think that it’s a song that a lot of people will connect to.

Jon cites Sufjan Stevens as his biggest influence whilst also noting that Beirut, Spoon and the more electronic sounds of Big Black Delta, Metronomy, Miami Horror and Passion Pit all play their part. It’s an impressive array, a wide range of stuff. You can see some of that influence seeping through in ‘Selfless Isolation’, a folk tune with nods towards Father John Misty and Louis Brennan. Both creator and consumer, Jon reveals that he’s “always looking for cool new bands to check out!“.

Sonic Breakfast continues to profile cool acts on a daily basis. Jon Sandman has used this time of isolation to become one of them. 

Near Death Experience – Everything

Near Death Experience, the four-piece psychedelic rock ‘n’ soul band from London, have been busy over the last year. And that’s despite the frustrations that have come with lockdowns and the closure of venues where they were developing their fan base. I know this because Ian Whiteling, NDX’s growling crooner of a lead singer, tells me so by E-mail in advance of publishing this piece. 

 

We’re keen to start off by re-igniting our Ealing Live sessions, where we host weekend evenings in local Ealing pubs featuring us plus new and original artists,“, says Ian. “This was going well before the pandemic struck. Pub goers loved it as an alternative to the usual covers bands and the bands that played were paid properly.

I make a mental note to head out to Ealing one weekend in the future. NDX would appear to be doing things properly over in West London. I’m struck by how much I miss random live music nights in pubs and bars such as this. Thank goodness light does appear to be at the end of a long tunnel.

We’ve started creating beautiful things for our fans,“, adds Ian. “From personalised made to order CDs to art prints from our band visuals by Pedro Takahashi, as well as launching a range of T-shirts, one by one over the next few weeks.

Yep, can’t fault the endeavour of a band who take advantage of the time we’ve all currently got to develop their merchandise lines. 

But most importantly, NDX have also been productive in their recorded output. “We’ve worked hard, getting together when we can and I think our run of singles from Conquer in late May to Everything this year have been some of our best work.

It’s that single, Everything, that I choose to feature on Sonic Breakfast this morning. It’s a sparky, soulful number that chugs along with a funk-fuelled rhythm. The psychedelic tones add a vintage feel though this never descends fully into derivation for things that have gone before. Ian’s vocal, reassuringly immediate, encourages us all to think big, to open our minds and to all reach out to the ‘places’ we’ve never been before. It all adds up to a pretty neat whole. 

Best not take my word for it though. Have a listen yourself. Thursday’s have just got more cosmic, yeah. 

Sacha Hoedemaker – Better Days

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that lyrics are very much my bag; you won’t find many acts featured in these parts who use cliché, bland platitudes or well-trodden similes to describe their current emotional state. And, it’s arguably my love of lyrics that has tended to rule out instrumental and faux-classical pieces from the mix. That all changes today. 

When I first heard Sacha Hoedemaker’s ‘Better Days’, I was floored. The words can almost write themselves as the cinematic piece swoops and builds to its final flourishes. You can’t help but feel optimistic about the future and positive about the right-now as first the piano and then a section of strings takes us on a truly melodic dance. 

More than ever, we can reflect upon our lives and think of the better days of yet to come. It’s so important to connect to each other and stay positive. I hope this piece provides with the motivation you need to turn today into a better day.

That’s what Sacha offers in the press release that accompanies ‘Better Days’. The Music Director at an Improvisational Theater in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago, Sacha is well-versed in performing multiple times a week as an improvisational musician. That’s no doubt aided his punishing release schedule in 2021 so far that’s seen him add new music to his YouTube channel every couple of weeks. It’s all good but this piece, Better Days, is the one I choose to feature.

I ask Sacha what he’ll do when the better days do come. “The first thing I’ll do is travel most likely.“, he says. “I want to take a break and see something else than my studio. Get inspired by the outside world to write more and more music.

When the inevitable glut of movies get made dramatising all of our Covid-19 experiences, this piece of music could very well feature. Opening credits, end credits or that moment when the scientist has the Eureka moment on discovering the vaccine – all might be suitable points for the opening bars of ‘Better Days’ to chime. It’s no surprise that Sacha has a background rich in film soundtrack.

For now, close your eyes and imagine the days that are better for you. Let the music take you away to a happy place and give you temporary respite from the day-to-day. 

Sugarmoon – Autumn Leaves

I’ve said it before on Sonic Breakfast but I’m no fan of Autumn in the UK. I know that others love the season; they delight in stomping through the mushy leaves at the side of the road whilst ticking off purchases from their Christmas list. I just find it bleak. As the days get shorter, colder and generally uglier, the sense of loss pervades. I am so glad that, last year, my extended stay in Spain meant I’d have to face one less UK Autumn in my life. 

 

Bristol’s Sugarmoon get it. Their folk-pop gem, Autumn Leaves, artfully captures a strained relationship on the edge of decay. The love is dying though there’s hope that this might be rekindled by the Springtime. Gently paced and delightfully delivered, it’s a tune laden with loss. It’s beautifully maudlin, made so by a combination of Sophie Jones’ calm, restrained vocal and the minor chords of the keyboard.

Sophie’s vocal was very nearly not part of this track at all. It was circumstance that thrust her into the limelight for this song. Guitarist Ryan McMurtry, who wrote the track, says: “I lost my voice right at the start of the first lockdown in April and we had a live stream planned, so we changed the key of Autumn Leaves and Sophie sang it. We were all blown away by how it sounded, so we just kept it like that when recording!

The video to ‘Autumn Leaves’, a collection of old family footage found in the attic at Sophie’s Grandparents’ house, adds to the atmosphere. Sporadic memories, bittersweet moments, day trips in Wales and a look back to times that were simpler, happier and more civil. 

I ask Ryan what’s the first thing he’ll do when lockdown eases. “Hopefully, the first thing we’ll do on june 21st is play some music together!”, he says. “And dish out the hugs 🙂 how about you?

There are hugs a-plenty on offer in Autumn Leaves and there’s more to come from Sugarmoon at the end of March. The days are getting longer and things are on the up. 

Peace Without Victory – Young & Strange

“This is music for outsiders. This is not for people who have never had to think twice about their place in what’s going on around them. It’s music for the long, the lost, the dreamers and the screamers who know there’s something better out there and will never give in until they’ve found it.”

So say Peace Without Victory in the press release for their single ‘Young & Strange’. I’m drawn in and my interest is piqued. It was many years ago when I was growing up but I’m not surprised that many people labelled me ‘intense’ as a teenager. It’s a mark of where my head was at back then that I took such comment as a badge of honour when it was very much not likely to be coming from such a place. In truth, I revelled in my role as an outsider. 

Based just outside of Toronto, Damiano Battiston-Weston is the one-man-band behind Peace Without Victory. ‘Young & Strange’ and the songs from his recent EP, Islands, were all recorded during lockdown in complete isolation at his own studio. It’s perhaps no surprise that the theme of isolation runs rife throughout. This is about “the isolation we all feel during the current pandemic and the longing for a return to “normal life”, but at the same time an examination of what that normal life was really like. We were alone before? How do we rise from this? Who felt that same empathic isolation prior to the tragedies of 2020 and can we better understand those who were ALWAYS alone.”

In terms of sound, Damiano acknowledges that this is something of a departure for him. “It’s the first time I actually set out to make something that one could potentially dance to, or at least gyrate a bit!“, he says within our E-mail correspondence. Damiano doesn’t appear to be the type to get stuck in a genre-specific rut for long with his music though. His chameleon-like abilities are emphasised when he says that “recently I met a new singer who I really clicked with, and encouraged me to really go to extremes with both the rock and electronic portions of my music – lean into the stranger elements that are unique – and given my background in soundtrack composition start to incorporate more orchestral elements. The new album will be called “Season of the Senses”, and given that I am handing off almost 75% of vocal duties to her, it may even be a new entity entirely (incorporating the PWV songs).

A social worker by day, Damiano is overjoyed that he’ll be getting his vaccine this week. It’s a step closer to his dream of “hugging everyone I love to within an inch of their lives and eating inside my favourite Ramen place 🙂 After that it’s a vacation – Italy and Japan! And then live shows, NON stop!“. He does note though that “Canada is… well, not where we should be. We are too small of a population base to have much buying power in terms of Vaccines, so we are behind in vaccination rates.

I’m certainly not as young and probably not as strange as I was when growing up. But I can still use this Monday morning to reflect upon that with a fine track for company. Have a good start to your week. 

WAMI – Life Is Good

Yesterday was a pretty perfect day. Spring was definitely in the air. We went for a weekend walk around Holme Fen, the lowest point in the UK, and were able to breathe in the good, clean air. The peaty mud beneath gave us a bouncy carpet to walk on. At one point, we happened upon a bird hide on the edge of a large lake and paused for a few minutes simply to watch the geese, the ducks and all manner of ornithological dream perform their ballet in front of us. Some swooped down from their flight to make a splash in the water whilst others chirped from the comfort of their small island. Life is good. 

It has to be worth reminding ourselves of that from time to time. On those low days when nothing seems to be going our way it’s helpful to take a step back and a few deep breaths. It’s not about those things that we don’t have or can’t do. When compared to 90% of the people on this planet our lot is likely better. Our irritations are mostly minor; our basic needs fulfilled.

WAMI are an Italian duo creating splendid electronic material. Lorenzo and Federico used to be resident DJs in a club but left their booths a couple of years ago to focus on their jazzy, R&B compositions. Their recent track, ‘Life Is Good’ is an uplifting belter if ever I’ve heard one. The vocalist on this track, Julia Shuren, sent WAMI her rough idea (vocal and piano chords) which was enough to enthuse over. Much remote working followed with Julia re-recording her vocals in her apartment in New York (she studies there) and in her hometown in Canada. 

“”Life is Good” was written with the intentions of lifting people up through this difficult time that the entire world has been going through.”, say WAMI in their press release. “The past year has been bombarded with bad news, and sometimes we need a reminder that it’s going to be alright. We just need to start spreading good vibrations with simple gestures and we hope this song can help lift the spirits of people that need it the most.

From our ensuing E-mail conversation, it’s clear that WAMI are pretty driven in their pursuits.  “Our biggest plan for this year is to create an Italian independent label, in which we can push and promote our artists as harder as we can.“, they say. “Such a big goal, but we’re absolutely motivated! 🙂

They add to this. “And for our musical project WAMI, we have several tracks almost ready to be released, but we have to brainstorm a little just to understand which path choose and which track deserves more that the other. Not a simple job, but essential if we want to keep our identity and to promote to our audience the “right” song.

We got back to the car after our walk at Holme Fen and it wouldn’t go into reverse. We had to call Green Flag to help recover us. This was a blow, an inconvenience that we could do without. And yet, it’s still worth reminding ourselves that ‘Life Is Good’. 

 

Elena – Build A Ship

We called it the walk of shame. But I don’t think we were really that ashamed when taking the walk. Meandering home wearing your dishevelled gladrags and yesterday’s underwear, your hair astray and your face ruddied, it was a clear giveaway to all and sundry that you had been up to ‘no good’ last night and this morning.

Who was it last night?”, asks your chirpy housemate, up at the crack of dawn and making themselves a healthy fruit smoothie before heading off to work for an early shift. You mumble something incoherent, masking the fact that you can’t entirely recall their name. You make your excuses and move back to your room to slump onto the bed. Your head tells you that your promiscuity is nothing to be proud of as you begin to descend into a prolonged bout of self-loathing. The beautiful aftermath of a one night stand.

 

Elena’s glorious single, ‘Build A Ship’, captures those post one night stand feelings perfectly. And yet, there’s a lovely twist in the tale as she’s able to spin a positive out of the self-loathing. Back in her bedroom after a night spent with him, Elena finds an old toy ship that she must have had since childhood. And she uses the ship to create her own happy narratives. 

The single itself is a delightful dose of folk-fuelled pop, engaging, melodic and a fine vehicle in which Elena’s warm vocal can shine. It’s quirky enough to avoid any accusation of blandness but familiar enough for you to fall in love with on first listen. 

Elena, born and home-schooled on a cattle farm in Canada, lives in London now but has evidently been on quite a journey to get here. She’s got a busy year ahead “finalizing and releasing all the music created last year, so preparing for lots of projects!“.

Me – I have a busy morning ahead as I get my Lego from the loft.

Natalie Gelman – 2020

How has your 2021 been? We’re nearly a sixth of the way through the year and I guess that for most, there hasn’t been much of a difference from 2020? Here in the U.K. we’re still in lockdown, not able to see friends and family and not able to go to pubs, restaurants or non-essential shops. At least, there’s light at the end of the tunnel with an effective vaccine rollout and a plan that suggests we could be back having festivals in fields by the summer. We cling to that in the knowledge that we’ve had false dawns before.

“This year I was gunna get my shit together, Now I’m tryin’ stay alive hoping 21 is better.”

That’s a line sung in Natalie Gelman’s perky earworm of a pop song, 2020. In it, with humour, style and grace, Natalie chronicles some of the tough things that happened last year but looks forward to this with a slightly more positive spirit. I check in with Natalie and ask if 2021 is currently living up to expectation. 

It’s crazy to think how quickly this year has been going and that we’re already 2 months in.“, she says. “I’m starting to feel more hopeful this year than I did as 2020 ended. Personally, I feel like I hit a wall at the beginning of this year as the lockdowns got stricter and politics in the states turned really ugly when the capital was stormed.

Natalie tells me that she’s been writing a lot and has written her first original song on a kalimba. She’s also got plans on the horizon. 

This summer I’ll be releasing a full length album with an indie label. I’m working with them to explore how we can work with things as they are and safely do concerts that fall outside the norms. I love to play and miss touring so much so it feels good to figure out ways to make the connection at online, drive in or micro house concerts.

Natalie seems pretty sorted. She’s got a decent stash of loo roll anyway. Anybody who can write a fun rhyming couplet admonishing those people who’re unable to fathom how to properly wear a mask is OK with me. And the future song on the kalimba sounds like something to wait up for. 

As we hurtle towards another blank 2021 weekend, happy Friday all.