Reina Del Cid – Death Cap

Some pals are organising a trip to Iceland. They want to get away somewhere that’s a bit off the beaten track; somewhere that might not be your typical destination for a holiday. I’d quite like to go but two trips to Scandinavia within the space of a few months (I’m going to Stockholm in May) might be considered excessive. 

Maybe, it was knowing about the plans they’re currently making that led me to pay specific attention when alerted to news that Reina Del Cid’s video for ‘Death Cap’ had been shot in Iceland. I watched. 

Sometimes, you hear a tune and watch a video that simply makes you go wow with wonder. This, for me, was one of those moments. There’s a fragility and sadness here; a contrast between  human and natural beauty. We are but specks amidst stunning scenery. As waves crash and guitars burn, we shudder in the remote warmth that this song and video provides. 

Reina sums it up when she says about the tune:- “‘Death Cap’ is a song about the final days before the end of one’s life, and it gets at that feeling of wanting to stay put, to not leave, while time is quickly running out. For me, Iceland—with all of its strange, detached beauty—is the perfect place for that drama to unfold. What are you clinging to in those last moments of life? The beautiful, strange world that has existed long before you and will continue to exist long after you are gone.”

It’s the final track from Reina’s album, ‘The Cooling’, which came out last summer. I’ve been having a listen to that album this morning having missed its initial release. If you like your Americana with warm wit and quirky charm, then Reina could well rein you into her world. 

 

 

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Stealth – Intro and I Don’t Need Your Love

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of my time in Birmingham. My day job has been taking me there at least two days a week. In truth, this is hardly a new thing for me. For significant chunks of my working life, I’ve trudged to an office base in Brum. 

It’s a City that tries hard to push its pop music/cultural offer – but let’s be fair. Birmingham is no Manchester, Sheffield or Liverpool despite being England’s second city (Manchester would dispute this of course). Maybe, it’s something about the very specific Brum accent that makes a nasal vocal from the town less appealing than the Manc sneer or the Scouse cheekiness. Clearly, there are breakthroughs – Ozzy Osborne and Jasper Carrott spring to mind (I’m being snide here) – but mostly this is a city that underachieves musically. 

Stealth, from Birmingham, is out to buck that trend. He’s an act that’s been on my radar now for a few months, ever since releasing the lyric video for his song, Intro. Refreshingly, you can pick up the tones of the accent in this neo-soul delight and, it enhances rather than hinders enjoyment. 

The song itself makes a bold sort of statement. We’ve all been in those situations where we’re so eager to please that we lose sight of who we really are right? Whether it’s work or in our love life, we’ve moderated our behaviour to be exactly what somebody else wants us to be. That’s the offer that Stealth makes in this tune. And yet, you suspect that by appearing  so malleable upfront, he’s actually ironically conveying the opposite. This is actually an ‘I’m going to do this my way’ song. 

The video, full of people being ‘slain in the spirit’ and ‘speaking in tongues’, being impressionable and susceptible to influence, simply increases that sense. 

 

The intro EP from Stealth comes out in March. In the past week or so, another track from the EP has been added to Soundcloud. ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ shuffles along with a soulful, trip-hoppy casualness. This is a tune about mutually deciding that a relationship is at an end. Stealth’s Brum tones come to the fore and ensures that this is a tune that connects. 

 

 

 I’m quite taken with this. Fine stealth. 

Lisbon and Declan McKenna – Leicester Cookie – January 22nd

Last Friday night, I nipped along to the fab Leicester venue, The Cookie, to review a gig. I was hoping that this review would get featured in the Leicester Mercury (as per my review of Drenge the following night).. For some reason, I can’t see that it’s been published.. Never mind – I’ll feature it here…. 

 

The last time that I saw Lisbon in Leicester, a crisis had just beset the band. They’d had guitars and instruments stolen in Birmingham and so needed to beg and borrow temporary equipment to play. I was struck by how decent and calm this young band appeared in the midst of disaster. 

Fortunately, on Friday night at the Cookie, no such predicament was in play. Lisbon had a full kit through which they could inflict their funky radio-friendly indie swagger on a half full but wholly appreciative audience. “It’s Friday night, let’s go crazy yeah?” urged lead singer, Matthew Varty, with genuine, Geordie exuberance. “Keep your dancing going”, he maintained as the band launched into new single, ‘Vice’. Varty worked the crowd hard and, as a result, we bopped to their beat.

“This is a song that’s very close to our hearts. It’s about the town we were born in; a place very far from here.” announced Varty by way of introduction to one of Lisbon’s minor hits, ‘Native’. These young lads are clearly not in a rush to forget their Whitley Bay roots even though headline tours and radio airplay are inevitably pushing them away from home comforts. 

 

Despite still having youth on their side, Lisbon must feel like senior citizens in contrast to their support act on this tour, Declan McKenna. No more than 17 years old, it’s Declan who, arguably, the crowd had flocked to see. Winning the Glastonbury emerging talent competition last year thrust this young man into the limelight. It’s fair to say that he’s still honing his live craft. 

Almost apologetically, Declan introduced songs that “you probably don’t know”. Assisted by an equally young band (two boys and two girls), this is awkward, angular, art pop. The plonk from the Korgs and the Casio mesh with the strum from the sticker-covered, beaten and bruised guitar to give us a very 2016 version of new wave post punk. Stand-out tracks, ‘Paracetamol’ and ‘Brazil’ lead the way as Declan slyly and shyly engages with those gathered to watch. It’s possibly heaping a bit too much praise to say that this Declan Mc reminds me of the early years of another Declan Mc (Elvis Costello) but they certainly walk in similar water.

 

Opening the night was the local Ali Clinton Band. This powerhouse,blues-rock trio, led by the sickeningly brilliant guitar playing of Ali, appeared, on the surface at least, to have little in common with either Lisbon or Declan McKenna. But, tonight has all been about precocious (in a positive sense), young talent. The three acts on this bill can all be filed in that particular cabinet.

 

Hunck – Never Had A Dream

For some while now, I’ve been meaning to post about Hunck. I first heard this particular tune before Christmas and loved it. It’s fair to say that the recently released video amplifies that connection.. 

‘I’m up all night, I sleep all day’, suggests the beautiful opening line. Yes, yes, yes.. My kind of lyric.. 

HUNCK were apparently born out of the post-riot depths of Tottenham in 2013. Estranged childhood friends Frederik and Thomas reconnected after a series of heartbreaks, losses and unfortunate events to indulge and share their love in the gloomier sounds of long dead crooners.

New songs come and go all the time. This one just stays.. Less than a month into 2016 but I’m happy to predict this’ll be one that still resonates in November. 

To sleep, perchance to dream.. Let’s hope so.. 

Big, big beauty – love this. 

Stevie Jones and The Wildfires – This Is My Church

I first met Stevie Jones at one of the Oysterband’s Big Session festivals at De Montfort Hall. I blagged a compering slot in the beer tent, despite having very little qualities to fulfil such a role. I suppose I was, at least, energetic, friendly and a good advert for how drunk the ale in the tent might get you. 

 

Stevie (along with his long term musical collaborator, Mark Gill) was one of the acts that I introduced. I remember that he was so enthused about this experience. It was easy to banter and joke with Stevie. He seemed to have an encyclopaedic knowledge about music and conveyed that with charm and good grace. 

When he played on stage, there was a definite ‘Americana’ angle to his art. This was a time when magazines such as ‘Uncut’ were piling praise on the likes of Ryan Adams and Stevie was clearly drawing influence from that. 

Since that introduction, I’ve got to know Stevie a little better. It’s mostly true that the music scene here in Leicester and its immediate beyond is one where we all try our best to encourage and support each other. It’s a broad church, not always devoid of schisms, but for the most part we all get on. There’s very few who do more to achieve that than Stevie. A tireless promoter, performer and supporter of live music, it’s always a joy to randomly turn up at one of my local pubs to be entertained by his acoustic performance. 

Following a successful pledger’s ‘soft release’ last autumn, Stevie will launch his new album nationally this spring. Recorded with his full band, The Wildfires, ‘Stratigraphic Heart’ is a collection of very personal songs. The title track of the album brings his love of archaeology to the fore; the forthcoming digital single, ‘This Is My Church’ gives insights into Stevie’s life via glimpses of the music he’s loved and the experiences he’s had. 

He’ll be playing shows across the East Midlands and further afield to support this launch. In a world where karma should rule, it’s well worth giving something back to Stevie.

Ben Abraham – You And Me

I must be yearning for Australia; maybe it’s these cold and dark wintry mornings that’s pushing my thoughts towards the Southern Hemisphere. This’ll be my second post in a row featuring an Australian act.

I’m quite charmed by this song and video from Melbourne based, Ben Abraham. ‘You And Me’ is taken from Ben’s soon to be released first album, Sirens, which is due out in early March.

On initial listen, I’m ashamed to admit that I very nearly didn’t perservere beyond the opening verse. This felt like one of those heart-wrenchers that might throw out bland cliches and, in the process, spectacularly fail to connect with the heart-wrenching that will inevitably be going on in my life. In truth, it’s actually a bit more considered than all of that. 

Yes, it does seem to be about a relationship that hasn’t lasted the distance; a love that was once so right that is now so wrong. I’m sure that we’ve all been there. Ben captures those melancholic moments when we inevitably mourn and moan about such things with consummate humanity and ease. I guess that he’s an expert in such grief.

Even if the song’s not for you, do give this video your time. The final, lingering shot is pure cinematic beauty. 

 

As a special Monday bonus, here’s another track from Ben’s album. ‘Home’ is just Ben; his voice and his guitar plucking. There’s the same mournful, missing you, tone to this lyric, even though, unlike in ‘You And Me’, the relationship is not yet dead and buried, more ‘on hold’ , miles apart with travelling complications. 

 

The Jezabels – Synthia

News reaches Sonic Breakfast that Australian band, The Jezabels, are having to cancel all of their world tour that’s been set up to promote the release of Synthia, their frankly incredible forthcoming album. The keyboard player in the band, Heather Shannon, needs some immediate treatment for an Ovarian cancer that she’s been dealing with for the past three years. 

Heather said – “Up until now, I have preferred to not let this diagnosis get in the way of getting on with life. I feel a deep frustration at this new roadblock, as I now have to take a step back and undergo treatment. The band means so much to me, and cancelling the tour has been a very sad decision. I am hopeful that in the near future we will be back on the road again playing music we love. This album means so much to us, and we were so looking forward to sharing it live with everyone.”

Cancer is a bugger isn’t it? I have a story to tell. 

At some point last year (I can’t exactly pinpoint when), I noticed a ‘thing’ on my leg that didn’t want to go. Like a cigarette burn, it would threaten to heal and scab over. After a night of restless dreaming, the scab would often peel from my leg leaving my sheets dotted with dried blood. 

A course of antibiotics (for a separate injury) didn’t heal the damned spot. Reluctantly, I trudged to my GP. 

Immediately, I was referred to the Dermatology unit of a local hospital. A qualified doctor informed me that I had a perfectly treatable skin cancer; it was either a basal or squamous cell carcinoma. 

‘Perfectly treatable’ it might have been but it didn’t stop my head playing all sorts of games and tricks on me. The ‘C’ word had been uttered. Even though, I knew the risks were low, my mortality still felt challenged by the events. This was freefall. I didn’t deal with it well. 

Just before Christmas, I went back to the dermatology unit for an operation; the spot was removed and sent to specialists. I’m now sporting a war wound, seven stitches in a scar on my thigh. I’m yet to get the all clear but it feels good that it’s removed. 

Now, I can be dramatic sometimes but I’m in no way comparing this minor cancer thing with the Ovarian cancer that Heather is dealing with. I do know though that having close friends to be able to call upon was fab when I was in freefall. And I bet that Heather is chuffed to bits that the rest of The Jezabels are supporting by not touring without her. 

I spent much of yesterday listening to ‘Synthia’ on repeat whilst sat in my comfy armchair. It’s a dense, intricate record full of twists, turns and deviations that you simply aren’t expecting. Songs build from an electronic base into rock symphonies. It’s powerfully ambitious, drawing upon influence from a spectrum of the strongest women in rock and pop.  With nods to Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde and Florence Welch, this is confident, strident and emotionally appealing. The National have that knack for writing something that’s not immediately obvious which then gets into your core on repeated listens. I’d file Synthia in that sort of league. 

And with that, I’m going to get back to my comfy armchair and press play again. 

Thinking about you Heather..