Sasha Siem – Most Of The Boys

Most of the boys were experiments‘ states Anglo-Norwegian artist Sasha Siem in the very first line of her stunning debut album. It’s a strident, opening line and I’m not sure I can think of a better way to summarise ambition and intent.

Not quite into February and I’ve already been alerted to at least two artists who are exciting me more than 2014 ever did. Sasha is one of these. Short lyrical spits of songs which all make a stunning, haunting point. ‘There’s proof on the roof of my mouth‘, she rhymes outlandishly.

Immersed in clever, middle-class, classical stuff, it would appear that her lot has been about opportunity; playing cello at London’s Guildhall, studying at Cambridge and Harvard, all followed up with commissions from Philarmonic and Chamber orchestras. It’s easy to be sniffy about such privilege, especially for those of us who prefer our pop stars to come from the ghetto. But, doing so will deny you the chance to hear something special this Saturday.

It’s a brief album – 12 tracks clocking in at little more than half an hour. Any self respecting music critic is left wanting more. And yet within, there is so much theatrical wordplay and charmed deviance that it’s tough not to fall. Hook, line and sinker, she’s got me with her ‘entangled relationships and binding attachments’, all served up amidst classical, strange, stringed arrangement.

Recent single, So Polite, is worthy of your full attention. It’s very specially angry. If there’s a better mention of Facebook in popular music I’m yet to discover it. It doesn’t end in obvious places . The final ,orchestrated 30 seconds are a joy. Sasha herself says that this is “a rage against fakery, against fear, against hiding the truth and the isolation that can come when community and true care between people is missing.”

One cannot say fairer than that…

 

Go Rogue Records

One of the common grumbles I hear from people who want to get on in the music industry is that it’s far too difficult. This is made difficult by (delete as appropriate) promoters, venues, tribute bands, TV talent shows, PR companies, journalists and record labels (the list could be longer) who all play their part in denying opportunities that should be offered with more fairness. ‘Fairness’ can mean many different things to the many different people who grumble but, when boiled down, it often means that they want the opportunity themselves.

It’s not an argument I’m entirely unsympathetic about. I’m sure we’ve all heard about bands who’ve been ripped off by rogues; acts that might have been the next ‘Coldplay’ (please, no!!) or ‘U2’ (God forbid!!) if it wasn’t for the fact that their drummer didn’t look the part. I’d love to see a world where talent trumps all but we’re a way from that now.

I’m drawn to the productive collective of ‘Go Rogue’ Records. Here, we have a group of people, based out of New York, who have decided to do something. ‘Go Rogue’ has been running for less than a year and yet is already preparing to release their fourth album, in early February. ‘Devil’s Road’ is conceived as a collection of gritty, folk-infused rock with an apocalyptic vibe.

Lilah from the label told me that, “as always, the album is a collective labor by a number of artists on our roster. As a nascent independent label in these dark days of the record industry, we’re doing our best to come up with new models for success, and for now that means releasing collaborative albums in which the creative outpouring, time commitment, and promotion is manageably shared amongst our artists. This way there isn’t too much pressure on any one emerging artist—our artists happily share responsibilities.”

Each album that’s been released to date by ‘Go Rogue’ has had a loose, generic theme. They can all be streamed, for free, on the website which can be found here. Regular readers of ‘Sonic Breakfast’ will surely not be surprised that it’s ‘Young Blood’, a collection of youthful electro-pop, that I’m returning to most.

There’s a dozen or so artists that seem to constitute ‘Go Rogue’ at the moment. I was first drawn towards A.F. Paxton, a Glaswegian living in New York. It’s hard not to fall for the electro-pop charms of his tune, ‘Our Way’. This acts as our invite into some of the other ‘Go Rogue’ acts; Goldishack’s analog collaborations with soulful vocalists harking back to a time when Motown ruled the roost; the out of the box thinking of Tyler Ewing from Nashville’s Pinewood Social Club that makes them so difficult to pigeonhole.

Indeed, this is one of the many charms of ‘Go Rogue’. As new releases are issued, we see the artists heading in new directions and revealing new angles to their sounds. It feels like this ‘collaborative album’ model is providing the freedom to experiment and develop fairly.

I am in no way saying that ‘Go Rogue’ exists to raise awareness for the plight of unfortunate drummers but it does seem to be adding some collective fairness back into this world that we all love… And, for that I salute them…

 

 

 

 

Koudlam – Benidorm Dream

Drunk, after a weekend of excess, I missed my early morning flight to Alicante. No worries – I was able to get one later in the day. This was last July. I was picked up at the airport and taken to Little Britain, ex-patriot central. We dived into bars run by people called Dave and witnessed fights between proper English sorts who couldn’t cope with the combination of Sun Cream and alcohol required.

We bypassed Benidorm on the way to better parts of Spain.

Perhaps, if we had taken time to explore, we might have bumped into Koudlam. For his new record, Benidorm dream, the French producer holed himself up in one of the many high rises that dominate the Benidorm horizon. Like a modern day JG Ballard, Koudlam clearly saw rich pickings in his surrounds. Here we have a very postmodern, dystopian dance vision; a dream that conjures up scapes of land and sound that have an almost hymnal element – futuristic and yet rooted in the here and now.

It’s an album that was never conceived to be an easy listen. It’s not something to play if you want to snuggle up with your loved one on the sofa. There’s something pretty rotten going on in the Benidorm streets and Koudlam wants us to know he’s angry about it. But, it’s not all bluster and beats. The waves subside and a wash of calm saunters past – a temporary oasis amidst the fights, the seediness and the monstrous desperation. Almost hypnotic, this is how this part of Spain could be if we dare to dream with a positive spin.

We wander around, darkly dysfunctional. We head to a new party and pretend the drugs are designer. We wear flags on our shaven heads to be both symbol and sun-block. We pretend we’re having fun as we piss against walls and tag unfinished building sites.

We reach out to the mountains in the distance. Up there, we might get a fill of clean air; a swim in a waterfall sent from paradise.

Benidorm dreams.

 

 

Femke Weidema – Stranger Than A Stranger

I sense that I’ve probably not embraced Twitter like a good blogger should. Sometimes I’ll get DM’s (I’m reliably told this is the abbreviation for a direct message) from artists who might want me to check them out for Sonic Breakfast. But, these artists often seem to struggle to capture my imagination within 140 characters. Indeed, I often just feel sullied by the brevity of the experience and rather suspect that the approach is the PR equivalent of a mass mailshot in which, if I’m very lucky, I’ll be a guaranteed winner.

This makes it a little bit surprising that I gave Femke Weidema the time of day. A couple of months back now, I got a DM from her twitter account that simply said, “Hi! Thanks for being awesome, would love to know what you think of my new video!” I didn’t let such praise swell my head. I didn’t think for a minute that Femke thought that I was any more (or less) awesome than the many other people she probably DM’d with the same request.

Despite this, I am, of course, particularly susceptible to blatantly inaccurate flattery and so I clicked on the link to the video. Typically with such approaches, I will regret doing so almost immediately. But, this was not the case with Femke. The link that Femke had sent was for her song, “Mixtape”. It was a perfect, perky, upbeat pop song. It brought a smile to my face to see the quirky Femke and her band dancing around the lounge, bedecked with studio equipment. I needed to find out more.

A quick internet search revealed that Femke was originally from The Netherlands. Periods of travel took her to America and she’s now holed up in Nashville with her fingers in all sorts of musical pies. She recently won a Latin Grammy for her work with Beto Cuevas on Transformation. (Beto Cuevas anyone?)

I watched further videos. ‘Leave The Lights On’ inhabits a similar space as ‘Mixtape’ – a credible pop song with Latin rhythmic influence. It might not change the world but it’ll make your day happier. I was now chuffed that Femke thought I was awesome because I was coming to the same conclusion about her.

It’s difficult to catch up with Femke’s output. Just a few days ago, she posted a new track on soundcloud, ‘Stranger than a stranger’. On hearing this less upbeat beauty, I knew I had to write a Sonic Breakfast post. You suspect this is a pretty autobiographical piece. It’s about being away from home and trying to fit in to your new surrounds whilst fighting loneliness. It’s pop with a Nashville country twang. And it’s brilliant.

Thank goodness for the Twitter. 

 

 

Rope Store – Get Me Out

I’m probably not the only one that likes a bit of a lie-in on a Saturday morning. But, I’m not exceptionally great at sleeping for long spells and so I often use that time in bed to listen to the weekly ‘listening post’ on Fresh On The Net.

Fresh On The Net is a fabulous blog, developed by Tom Robinson. There’s a team of people involved within it who all demand the utmost respect for the way that they support and encourage new music to prosper.

The weekly ‘listening post’ runs from Friday to Sunday afternoon (though you can always listen to old editions). The very best tracks that ‘Fresh On The Net’ has received in that week are published for all of our listening pleasures in a ‘Soundcloud’ playlist. The challenge (should you choose to accept) is to pick your five favourites out of these 20+ songs. It is always a challenge to pick just five because the standard is ridiculously high.

Last weekend, one of the stand-out tracks from the list was by a band called Rope Store. After picking them as one of my five, I was delighted to get an E-mail from Jason, a member of the band. He told me, “we’ll soon have the live band up and running. It’s mainly me and Gemma on the recordings, but the live band is a 7 piece, with a brass section.”

According to the Band Camp link that Jason sent, Rope Store are from Norwich. They make 1960s inspired songs in a disused nuclear bunker, recording straight onto 8 track with one ribbon mic. The four songs that are on Bandcamp at the moment are all gems; I love the speed with which Jason and Gemma write and record. The song I first heard of theirs was ‘Get Me Out’, recorded on New Years Day evening and released on January 2nd. Rope Store’s music is so perfect to me because of the rough and ready imperfection. The songs here are so immediate that they don’t need polishing towards blandness.

Somewhat oddly, barely 24 hours before ‘Get Me Out’ was recorded, I was also in Norwich, deep in a grumpy malaise and uttering similar words. But, I was asking to leave the New Years Eve party at the Waterfront after spending a few hours hearing the standard indie fodder that probably gives new music a bad name.

And that brings me back to Fresh On The Net. This isn’t about the promotion of standard indie fodder and that’s what I love about their site. I’m off to listen to this weeks listening post and to revel in the delights of some new discoveries. See you there.

 

Wolf Colony – Unmasked

The car park at work is out of bounds this week whilst some workmen play at the entrance. Far from being an inconvenient thing, this forced me to take the train today. When I’ve got so much great, new music to listen to, there is surely no better way to travel. Headphones muting out the sounds of snoring and sniffing passengers, I allowed myself to drift away with the sparse, electronic, cheeky intelligence on offer from Wolf Colony.

‘Unmasked’ is yet to be released but it’s one of the many perks of this blogging hobby that you get sent things in advance. I sense that this debut album, from the New York based Wolf Colony, is one that I’m going to be coming back to a fair bit in 2015. Initial investigations reveal this to be tender yet telling, ambitious but not arrogant, smart and strong.

In other hands, album opener and new single, ‘The One’, could become an exercise in excessive, sentimental mush. Yet, Wolf Colony ensures it stays on the right side of charming. Ultimately, you just want to beam at the inclusive positivity that’s exuding. “I think you are my favourite, I think that you’re the one“, sings the man behind Wolf Colony in relaxed, wispy and lispy fashion over an airy, poppy arrangement. Only a fool would fail to be hooked.

“The One” has a pretty neat, meltingly tender, accompanying video as well which dropped last week. “I wanted the video to be all inclusive and universal. It was a beautiful experience getting to know these couples and seeing how they interact with each other. I’m also a big fan of Humans of New York and that sparked the initial idea of ‘Couples of New York.’” That’s how our man reflects upon his art.

 

 

You find yourself wondering about the man behind the mask; for little is known about Wolf Colony and an image of anonymity is cultivated. A wolf mask is worn at live shows and in press shots. There’s enough confidence contained within the lyrics that you suspect this isn’t an image born out of shyness but rather from a desire to not get waylaid by celebrity meandering. This is an artist who recently revealed in interview that his ideal collaboration would be Lady GaGa though so I concede I might have that hopelessly wrong. Clues about identity are littered throughout ‘Unmasked’ and nowhere more tellingly than in the albums longest track, “Fame” (clocking in at just 4 minutes and 16 seconds). “I asked a travelling wiseman how many lies do you think I can pull off, before I’m caught in the act/art, before I am unmasked,” ponders Wolf Colony. “Fame” is yearned for but not at any cost. It’s more important to be comfortable in who you are.

Next week, I’ve got a 4 hour train journey to and from Newcastle to look forward to. I’ll pass much of that time getting further acquainted with ‘Unmasked’. It’s an album that I’m pretty sure I’ll grow to love.

Parlement – Blood

At home, I have been without heating and hot water for three days. This morning, covered with duvets and wrapped in scarves, I sat and waited for hours for an emergency response engineer to arrive. I wiped icicles away from my nose and stomped up and down in an attempt to break the block of freezing chill that was surrounding my feet.

Sonic Breakfast is a place where often you’ll find sweet pop. Such service will surely resume with a fully functioning boiler (I have been slowly defrosting this evening) but, for now, allow me to bring you some angry, guitar-laden, indie-rock from Spain. It’s perfect for stoking your internal fire – and that’s what I needed earlier today.

Blood is the debut single from Spanish newbies, Parlement. If Kasabian indulged in a ballsy-more-bluesy riff driven template, it’s what they could sound like. Yes, I get the Black Keys comparisons that are attached to the press release but this is far from being another lazy derivative. It has an explosive, Almerian edge.

The video is equally captivating. Beautiful people at a wedding service; a celebration of two people being in love that quickly descends into a raucous, riotous reception. With more twists and turns than a Shakespearean tragedy, this has a plot that’ll hold your attention until the closing drumbeat and the final heartbeat.

More singles and an album are promised in 2015 from Parlement. I hope that my house doesn’t need their rocking warmth when I next hear from them.