Skittish – Intro (vert)

I used to be a people person, a social animal, the sort that would turn up to the opening of an envelope. Always meeting people, always doing things, never short of a place to visit or a gig to go to, 2020 could have been impossible.

It’s been anything but. 

I check in with friends and they tell me that lockdown hasn’t been easy. They know me of old and acknowledge that if it’s been tough for them it must have been triple-hard for me. 

But I’ve been lucky in lockdown. The day job has kept me busy and I’ve felt comfortable in the isolation of it all. When compared to the many millions around the world who have very real health and finance concerns, I’ve got off lightly so far. “I cannot grumble“, I tell those friends.

Two years ago, when I lived for long periods of time alone in this remote Spanish villa, I’d be the first to admit that I didn’t deal with the solitude especially well. I needed the bright lights of a big city to get my kicks, a frenzied time at a festival to wear me out before a week of villa-nada. 

Perhaps that year was simply good practice for this, a dress rehearsal before the pandemic.  I like being alone with my thoughts and a world of  music to listen to. Take that away and I’d be fucked. 

Skittish has a new album out today. Savannah Sessions was recorded when Jeff Noller, the driving force behind Skittish, rocked up to live in Savannah. He dragged in many local musicians to augment his ambition. 

This is Skittish’s seventh album apparently. That’s a lot of catching up I have to get through on Spotify. But catch up I will for the impressions I get from hearing the singles from Savannah Sessions is that Skittish is an act I will grow to love. Literate and observational with power-pop swirls and folk flourishes, it’s stuff that’s right up my street. 

Take album opener, Intro (vert). A pun of a title gives way to a beautiful break-up song beneath. “This was the first song I wrote when I got to Savannah. Two days after I arrived a hurricane passed by and shut down the city. I enjoy my solitude very much, but am worried about living that way too long, which is wrapped up in the chorus line ‘it’s a trial of solo vs. So long‘” – a chorus made for my villa reflection it would appear. 

 

The other single from the record, Car Crash Companion, chimes in with a singalong chorus and vital power pop riffs. It also has a video with style, humour and awkward editing. “I make all of my videos for less than a hundred dollars“, says Skittish. 

And with that you know that you’ve unearthed another lo-fi gem. 

 

 

For Those I Love – I Have A Love

I’ve headed to Alicante for the weekend. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that this is my happy place. I love the solitude that I get from the villa out in the country but need the buzz of a city from time to time. 

And Alicante gives me that even if the 2020 version is a muted and mutated version of what has gone before. I walked down the esplanade en route to my hotel yesterday and had it all to myself. The hotelier tells me that he might only have money for a couple of weeks more trading. These are desperate times. 

But last night out in the old town I sat under the stars and watched the world go by. There was still an energetic and contagious buzz; we remembered how to smile and laugh amidst the infectious giggles. 

I headed back to my hotel and listened to a piece of music that totally knocked me sideways. I’ve now watched this video a dozen times on repeat and I plan to watch it a dozen times more. 

I remember the very first time I listened to Original Pirate Material by The Streets. Mike Skinner introduced himself as a talent to behold with his gritty, humorous observations about working class life in Birmingham and I adored it. For Those I Love achieve something similar, albeit working class life in Dublin, with this track I have a love’. I can pay no greater compliment. 

For Those I Love is the life project of Dave Balfe. He wrote this piece to honour the memory of his best friend and former band mate, Paul Curran, who died suddenly a couple of years back. In one fell swoop, the beautiful, observational spoken-word poetry builds over a growing electronica swarm to establish a more than fitting tribute for a friend. The video, laced with footage from their friendship, manages to be both beautiful and sad. I defy anyone watching to not feel the lump in the throat as the song builds to its point of no return. 

 

 

Dave puts it better than I ever could when he says, “When it happened, and life froze over, the only way out was through the songs.
How else can I show my love, how else can I remember what we had and what we made, but through the art itself.”

The Phoenix Foundation – Landline

Hands up who misses the landline? Bonus points if, like an alcoholic with drink, you remember your first ever encounter with the fixed phone device, especially if it was one that you had to prompt into action with a circular swoop of the finger. 

I recall my Saturday mornings as a young child well. I must have been six or seven and I was desperate to ask a question on ‘ Multi Coloured Swap Shop’.Each week I’d spend hours, when others were watching Noel Edmonds pose questions to the latest pop sensation, sitting on the hard parquet floor in the hall laboriously dialling and re-dialling. The TV was in another room. I wouldn’t actually be watching the programme itself. I had more important business to conduct.

 

I never did get to ask my question. I never got beyond the engaged tone. My Dad, in a vain attempt to curb my obsessive behaviour, did take me to a wet field in Wycombe where Cheggers (RIP) had set up stall with his roaming swap-shop. I swapped a favourite toy for something that was broken in a box; my deal-making, business acumen laid bare for all to see from an early age. 

But I’m rambling. There is no point talking about foolish attempts to woo girls in my teenage years from the now-carpeted steps leading off from the hallway; the clock-watching waiting for 6PM to pass and the cheap rate to begin. I can barely believe that I once told a young woman who was blatantly not interested in a date that they would ‘regret that decision one day’. I’m sure she never has. There are many more landline misdemeanours that I could draw upon but I won’t.

In years to come this prose will seem archaic, distant, confusing and perhaps quaint. Maybe, some younger, more mobile readers are already wondering what the point of this weird invention, the landline, could ever have been? 

The Phoenix Foundation, a sextet from New Zealand, have just released a song called Landline. The tune itself is an upbeat slice of happy funk-bounce. Laced with a healthy dose of 80’s psychedelia yet sounding thoroughly right for 2020, it’s worth three and a half minutes of anybody’s time. According to the bands co-frontman, Samuel Scott Flynn, this “ridiculous song is about trying to keep real connections with your friends in this bollocks time in human history but in the video I’m a human telephone trying to stab a Spy Vs Spy version of Luke. Makes sense.” 

A video to make you smile, a song that draws upon feelings of nostalgia to make sense of today’s crazy world. This is right up Sonic Breakfast’s street and I’m sure it’ll be up yours as well. 

J.E. Sunde – Love Gone To Seed

 

J.E. Sunde has been building up to the November release of his new album, 9 Songs About Love, by teasing us all with some great singles from it. It’s going to be a late contender for album of the year if the quality of those three tracks is typical of the rest of the record. 

I took some time out after work today to have a look at the video for ‘Love Gone To Seed’. This third single is a sublime piece of jaunty, country-influenced folk. It’s got the anguished simplicity of a Buddy Holly heartbreaker and the melodic beauty of Paul Simon at his least complicated. 

Sunde says it’s about “a relationship ending. Probably one whose ending is for the best. However, the fellow can’t really see that and is futilely attempting to hold the relationship together when the other person isn’t interested in that. It also mentions, seemingly as justification for the end of the relationship, the tempting lie that for love to be true and worth pursuing there should be no need for you to compromise in any way”.

We’ve all been there right? That unspoken desperation that characterises a relationship coming to an end, the unseemly addictiveness of the push-pull that gives a sliver of joy within a vista of hurt. In truth, I’ve not been there for a good, few years now and my memories of it are probably more distant than Jonathan Edward’s (that’s what the J.E. stands for) but I can still relate to the feelings when two atoms repel.

 

The Second single, I Don’t Care To Dance, is on the surface, a more melancholy piece, a slow, woozy dance late one evening, aided by gin and tonics. Sunde’s voice goes all Andy Shauf on us (this is a very good thing) as he ponders how the effects of a toxic masculinity influence his being. 

As J.E. says, “It’s about a man finding hope that love might be possible for him after having resigned himself that it wasn’t. It also speaks to the broken expectations and models that are given to men in how they should pursue relationships. Models and expectations that so often turn toxic”.

There is hope. This is music that helps me to smile, to cry and to fly. I hope you’ll like it as much as I. 

 

Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – Nostalgia For Infinity

My good friend Paul is an occasional contributor to Sonic Breakfast. He’s just recovering from his third hip replacement operation. Even the poorest of mathematicians should be able to work out that means that one is a replacement of a replacement. And that’s serious by all accounts. 

He’s recovering well even though living in Leicester represents something of a double-whammy lockdown. Malcolm from Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate asked Sonic Breakfast if we might review their latest album and I knew the man for the job. Paul likes prog and counts this band as one of his modern-day favourites. It’ll keep him out of mischief I thought. 


Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate

Nostalgia for Infinity

 

There are albums for long car journeys. This is an album for a journey into deep space – take-off is anxious and exciting, distances are vast and empty, and when we arrive we have to save humanity.

Nostalgia for Infinity is a concept album in the great tradition of prog rock – a message full of contradictions, uncertainties and desperate pleading. There is infinity, and plenty of it. The throb of the universe, the dark, the cold, the endlessness. The silence. But there is nostalgia, too, and that has always been an important part of English prog music – the lark ascending, the cricket, the cucumber sandwiches, the Carry On films. Comfort in times of change; reassurance where there is disorientation.

The sleeve notes tell us that much of the album is based on, or inspired by, the works of the British science fiction writer Alistair Reynolds. This is interesting background information, and it is quite right for sources to be acknowledged, but the pieces are strong enough to stand on their own.

Six of the 12 tracks are instrumental. Track 3, Ark, is one of those, and it’s outstanding – melodious, thoughtful, always growing and developing. It moves from tinkling modest optimism with gentle piano, to steely determination with bold guitar, to becalmed introspection with understated keyboard, and finally to a quiet letting go, with piano again. It has echoes of Van der Graaf Generator’s Plague of Lighthouse Keepers.

Nanobotoma is a song about a disease caused, not by bacteria or viruses, but by nanotechnology – tiny machines that spread and divide in the body, ‘fly on the breath’ and ‘sparkle in the spit’. We need to get the R number down – self-isolate for 14 light years.

Following on from Nanobotoma, Chasing Neon comes as quite a relief. It’s a dancy instrumental track, a joyful theme for a chase sequence between space ships, or just a space joyride.

There’s not much respite, though. Doom is back on the agenda with Glitterband, where glitter turns to rust, and it looks like the earth is done for.

Three instrumental tracks follow. The guitar leads the way in Conjoiners, and we’re happy to go along. The going gets tough in Scorpio, with jazz riffs, and then we hit the desolation of Inhibitors, with wind effects and scratchy flute sounds and primal gasps – a world willing itself into existence. No discernible lyrics, but a faraway female voice that could almost be keening.

The next track is the title track. It is about guilt. Specifically, the guilt of the captain of the space vessel, who has made some bad decisions and who is now starting to meld organically with the nuts and bolts of his ship. His crew aren’t happy.

The fusion of flesh and machinery is a theme through the album, be it at molecular or architectural scale.

After the instrumental track Voyager, the final track is Sixth Extinction. The earth has already seen five mass extinctions, the fifth being 65 million years ago. The sixth extinction will almost certainly be anthropogenic.

Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate are Malcolm Galloway and Mark Gatland on vocals, guitars, bass and tech, and Kathryn Thomas on flute and much-too-sparing vocals. Their music is ethereal, emotive and moving. It will help us in this journey.

Paul Champion

September 2020

Alicante and Dylan Seeger’s new album

I wrote this three weeks ago. I guess it should be published…

2020 has been a fuzzy as fuck year. I hate not seeing friends, being contracted into ever decreasing circles, getting my hugs from distant zoom calls and my cuddles from texts. 

I’ve still been writing. But my notes have been private. I’ve not entirely missed gigs but I’ve actively avoided the internet versions. I can’t help feeling short-changed. 

Last night I went out into Alicante. I’m lucky to be in Spain. The Dutch and the Germans marauded carefree, no quarantine on these youths. Single-handedly, they kept alive the clubs of the old town whilst we nodded and predicted second spikes in Amsterdam and Berlin before the Summer is done. 

It was nice to see people dance and smile though. We observed and kept our distance. 

Mate, Seany has been listening to music in 2020 – probably not enough but I’ve been digging flamboyant soul and deadpan pop. 

And there are some albums that keep giving much. Even though they’re not soul or pop. 

Dylan Seeger is an under the radar genius. Prescient, perfect and largely unnoticed. I don’t know why he bothers. It’s certainly not for the attention his releases attract.

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that his 2015 album, Claye, was an absolute favourite in these parts. He’s only gone and done it again with Metropolitan Hospital Center, his latest, released to a silent fanfare earlier this year. 

How was Dylan to know that this opus, his work for the last four years, would be released on the eve of a pandemic, the worst the globe has faced for at least a 100 years? 

It’s themes are scarily 2020 – hospital, loss, grief, death and a nod to the staff and people met on the way. It’s  a record for me that says how much isolation can play with your dreams and your mental health. 

It’s not a happy listen – but it’s perversely uplifting. And brilliant. Put it on one evening when bed beckons but you want some maudlin meditation. 

A festival, A Parade, Liar Liar, Josh Vine and James Leonard Hewitson – The Finsbury – March 10th 2020

When time allows, it’s always worth making the effort to get to a gig right from the kick-off. It’s also worth staying until the final whistle has been blown. Following such a principle certainly paid dividends on Tuesday evening up at The Finsbury when two acts from the North East book-ended a Killing Moon’s New Moons bill with startling skill.

Up first was James Leonard Hewitson and band. Hailing from Hartlepool, this young four piece make a fine racket; a bubblegum post-punk that draws obvious influence from Jonathan Richman and The Ramones before veering away from that course with Gang Of Four like noise.  James could double as Josh Widdecombe but don’t let that put you off. They’re promoting an album and, on first listen, the songs transition into a live setting well. The thrusting complacency within ‘Shy of Hard Work’ gives way to ‘The Screen’, a song about looking at your mobile too much, before James jumps from the stage and plays his prostate guitar from the floor. A great way to kickstart the evening. 

 

Josh Vine doesn’t have the comfort of a full band and it’s arguably a challenge to follow one but with an electric guitar and a rich, strong rock voice he has a damn good try. Though not entirely my thing, it would be churlish to not see that this tall lad has talent. A smidge of Springsteen-like influence is discernible in Josh’s best tune, ‘The Losing Side’.

 

Liar Liar take a while to get into their stride. Perhaps the initial technical hitches get in the way but when they do all press go it all seems off kilter. A trio, it’s not obvious what they want to be with two hirsute chaps providing instrumentation over which a girl sings. The chaps want to rock when the songs might be better treated to less bang and clutter. The sexy, slap-laden funk of a tune that might be called ‘ I don’t want to take it easy with you’ hits some heights but ultimately I expect that Liar Liar will have better days than this.

A festival, A Parade have been steadily raising their profile and it’s clear to see why. With guitars and effect pedals a-plenty, the lads from Newcastle have more kit than kat and provide a fine take on Americana indie-rock. The National influences are there for all to see but I pick out more than a faint nod to Murmur era R.EM.. Things get intense when a e-bow is utilised on the lead guitar but the songs continue to stand up to scrutiny. Their complete sound and confident performance will win them many more  fans in festival fields this summer.

That’s if we don’t all die first. Let’s hope that’s not the case eh? 

 

Vida Festival London Launch Party – Zulu Zulu and Sam Berridge – Sebright Arms – March 5th 2020

I go to lot of festivals. Indeed, it was the lure of a festival press pass or two that got me into this writing game. I used to think that most people who write about music are pricks; in fact, by and large, I still do. But now I’ve well and truly joined that club with many years of eFestivals contribution in my rucksack. 

People often ask me what my favourite festival is. It’s an impossible question to answer. There are so many special ones dotted across the calendar. And they all scratch different itches.

But I guess one solid measure of quality would be looking at the festivals I still pay for tickets for; the ones that, press pass or not, I have to be at. For the past two years, there’s been one in particular that meets that criteria. 

Valued readers of Sonic Breakfast – I give you Vida.

Two years ago, when living in Spain, I was told about this mighty gem that takes place in early July on the outskirts of Vilanova i la Geltru and south of Sitges in Catalonia. It was the line up that year that first drew me in. It had been far too long since I’d had chance to see They Might Be Giants and Of Montreal play live and elsewhere on the bill there was more than enough to delight. I had no idea at that point just how beautiful the Vida site is (It’s set in the grounds of a gorgeous house) or what value for money the Wild Side VIP ticket represents.

Please don’t tell your English or Irish friends about this“, said more than one other Wild Side ticket holder to me in that first year. I could see their point. Frankly, this all felt too good to be true. Nestled beside the country house, this VIP area was a mini festival in itself. As DJs played fine tunes, we would sit on straw bales and help ourselves to the free alcohol. Yes, free –  all beer, wine and cava is free with a Wild Side ticket. For a price of about 150 euros it works out as astonishing value for money. Last year, I told my good friend from Dublin, Rian, all about the Wild Side. This year I’m totally breaking rank and blogging about Vida.

With a cracking line-up announced for 2020, my ticket’s already purchased. In the build-up to the festival, Vida have put on showcase gigs free for ticket holders in Barcelona. I was over the moon to see that this year they’d added a launch party in London. With a line up headlined by Zulu Zulu (previously featured here on Sonic Breakfast), the Sebright Arms was the only place to be last Thursday evening. 

Sam Berridge was up first. I confess that Flyte were a band that largely passed me by, an act that I ought to revisit. Sam, one of their mainstay members, has now gone solo and he’s worth a watch. Happy to be in ‘London’s fashionable East End’, he plays beautiful and literate folk songs on an acoustic guitar, laden with Byrds-like melody. He temporarily discards his guitar to sit at an electric keyboard where he wraps Gilbert O Sullivan, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney up in one easy-listening package. ‘No Soy Gringo’ is his concession to the event, a song written in Colombia and, like the other morsels of joy in this lovely half hour, an intelligent song of love and regret.

Zulu Zulu are a must-see live band. Think Animal Collective or Caribou and you’re part of the way towards envisaging what you get from this trio from the Balearic Isles. Dressed in crazy animal-themed outfits and wearing colourful masks, Zulu Zulu serve up exquisite melody, African rhythm and tribal harmonies; even for the self-conscious, it’s impossible not to dance. As a Vibraphone gets touched and a crazy jazz trumpet blown, the impressive strobe lighting just adds to the euphoric feel all around. It all comes together in a free-form baggy indie that The Stone Roses could only aspire to. This is super-fine stuff. 

 

The party continues upstairs at the Sebright Arms with a DJ playing tunes to keep us dancing. But I’m off elsewhere. The gig has whetted that appetite for the fab Vida festival. 

 

Oli Swan & The Dangerous Creatures, Mirror Shot and Modra Luna – The Victoria – March 3rd 2020

I’ve been meaning to catch Oli Swan & the Damgerous Creatures for a little while now. I’ve noticed their presence on gig listings that I’ve very nearly attended and have been impressed by the way that they’ve surged from bottom to top of those lists in a short time. That’s a sure sign of quality and it’s all backed up by the interesting, skewed and spirited pop-rock of their releases to date. They’re headlining at the Victoria in Dalston. I’d be a fool not to go along. 

I don’t want to be uncharitable to first support, Modra Luna, but I doubt that their rise to the top of the bill will be as smooth. An energetic delivery, technical competence and some friends in the front to add to the atmosphere can’t mask the fact (for me at least)   that there are few hooks with which to engage. Lola, ‘their first song to be released on Spotify’, at least has a melody to cling to but ultimately their set peters out before beginning. 

 

Mirror Shot fare better. Despite a considerable thinning of the crowd that appears to zap a bit of confidence, there’s more than enough C86 spirit and off-kilter awkwardness to entice a man like me. Reminding me a bit of Hefner, Mirror Shot are not yet the finished article but with vocals that are dripping with longing and loss, the intrigue remains. They don’t appear to be enjoying this trial much yet they have the right to be more perky; ones to watch I suspect. 

 

Oli Swan and the Dangerous Creatures are everything I hoped they’d be. An entourage of happy looking people dressed brightly take to the stage and with a ‘one, two, buckle my shoe’, we’re off. Oli has big, permed curls and a cheeky attitude as he casually discards of his gum between songs. His fantastic band look on adoringly, admiring his many talents. Beautiful harmonies come from the musicians to his side; the keyboard player in particular throwing herself into the gig full-whack. 

There’s a lot of influences at work here; they jump from Motown influenced 60’s pop to 70’s AOR by way of a Wham-like pop jewel from the 80’s. Clearly not ones for routine, they end with a spritely new one that’s either talking about millennial pleasure or pressure. 

They’re a fun band and well worth watching before we all succumb to Coronavirus.. I head home happy. 

Ephemerals and Shunaji – The Jazz Cafe – February 26th 2020

I’ve been to Camden’s Jazz Cafe before but haven’t published a review from the iconic, always-cool space a short stumble from the tube station. It’s a proper music venue; happy punters, smiley, friendly staff, the music tickling with infectious joy. Wined and dined guests watch from their seats on the first floor balcony whilst the cool cats congregate in the dance floor square below. 

We’re here to see Ephemerals. I’ve written about them before on Sonic Breakfast (here). But that was a long time ago and the soulful jazz-funk ensemble have morphed along the way. They have a rich back catalogue and they will no doubt make fleeting use of it even if the intended outcome from this tour is the promotion of their new album, The Third Eye.

I arrive to see Shunaji take to the stage. She’s a happy bundle of energy, a mass of positivity as she welcomes herself back to the Jazz Cafe. She’s been two years away from this stage but her fine jazz hip-hop manner immediately warms the crowd’s cockles. During early single, Perfect Like Venus, she lays down her intent before waving an incense stick, delivering with a smile as she picks up the guitar she’s currently learning. A producer on a voyage of discovery, Shunaji is a fine warm-up to the main event. 

It’s either a measure of how good Ephemerals are or how great the beer is at the Jazz Cafe but I find myself submitting out of control superlatives to social media by the end of their set. Wolf, their singer, takes to the stage dressed in a full-length white robe. By the end of their third song, my notes ask why I’ve been so remiss to never watch Ephemerals live before. Trip hop gives way to a slow beautiful soul before it’s all shoved out of the way by a mad, mod electronica groove. It’s music that imposes itself upon you, gradually getting under your skin before clawing you tight. As I sway to the beat, I can’t help contemplating that this’ll rank as one of my gigs of the year. 

And it’s still only February. How fine this London life is.