Sonic Breakfast’s Act Of The Year – 2020

It’s been the strangest of years – of that there is no doubt. Who knows how 2020 will ultimately be recorded in the history books but few would bet against it being seen as the year that it all changed. Very few of us are going back to what we once had. 

At the beginning of the year, Sonic Breakfast had completed the transition from a blog that wrote about acts I liked to a blog that wrote about gigs I liked. So happy was I with the change that I considered retiring the whole blog when the initial lockdown came. A writers block came over me and I wrote very little until August. By then, I’d made my way to Spain. The space and warmth chilled my lethargy and I tentatively began dipping my toe in the ‘band water’ again. Turns out I’ve enjoyed the routine it’s provided – finding new art to write about in 2020 has been a joy and there’s so much of it around. 

I’m still livid about what’s happening back home. Brexit is so clearly the stuff of nonsense. And to do something as negatively game-changing whilst a mutating pandemic rages is nothing short of supreme idiocy. But there are a few who will benefit and so they make up lies in the state-controlled media to encourage others to believe. Mostly the lies stick by attaching blame for what’s been going wrong on others; those dirty immigrants or those foul foreigners. It makes me sick.

They say that good art can come from such dire circumstance. And whilst I’m not sensing a mass movement of revolutionaries quite yet, there has been some positive shoots. Bladderwrack is a no-brainer for Sonic Breakfast’s act of 2020 as they’ve been on the money with a series of singles, many (but not all) taken from their raging album, Good Mourning Britain. That album, recorded in a session of one-hour, sets the tone for what’s to come.

Sonic Breakfast first wrote about Bladderwrack a little over a month ago when they released their single ‘Gammon’. Readers can top up on my anger by revisiting that post (here). As 2020 draws to a close, Bladderwrack have been at it again with their Christmas release, Please Sir, We Want Some More. The Dickensian Punks draw upon the spirit of Oliver Twist to highlight the plight of many who are starving and dying whilst others benefit from the systems and apps they’ve (not) created. 

It’s a brilliant rant, not for the faint-hearted, as it shows in mocking satire what Britain has become. Bladderwrack are worthy winners of Sonic Breakfast’s act of 2020. The medals are in the post. 

 

Sonic Breakfast’s Gig Of The Year – 2020

In previous Sonic Breakfast ‘end of year’ posts, I’ve put together a ‘Top Ten’ of featured acts that have most excited me across that year. It somehow doesn’t feel right to do so in 2020 when all music to have given me a modicum of joy should be hailed and praised. 

I am going to pick out one live gig I went to and one song/band for top accolades though. Today, I’ll start with the live show before ending 2020 with the number one band. Drum roll please.

Venues and live gigs have been through the mill this year. It seems so long ago that I was crammed into enclosed spaces with others that it’s barely conceivable that such behaviour took place in 2020. Few could see the doom that was on the horizon when I crossed London in February to rock up at the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill for the wonderfully intimate, sold out and packed ‘audience with Lail Arad and JF Robitaille show’.

Readers of Sonic Breakfast can refresh themselves with my review from that evening here. It begins with an inappropriate throwaway comment about Coronavirus and ends with the observation that Tuesday evenings don’t get better than this.

Lail and JF appear to have had a year of consolidation this year. I see occasional posts about new songs being written and sometimes they post videos of songs they have covered during lockdown. They recently uploaded a cover of a sad Christmas tune (Blue Christmas) that ably demonstrates (as if any reminder was needed) how their voices work together to create all sorts of spine-tingling magic.

There’s been arty pictures in the Financial Times and spurts of creative writing but mostly this has been a year in which Lail and JF desire to be out on the road touring. They clearly miss creating that connection that can really only come from playing your music in a live setting. And I miss being in the crowd to witness such delight.

 

The Horse Puppets – Until Next Year

I watched the BBC News at Ten for the first time in many months yesterday evening. I’d  found a feed to view it from in Spain and my curiosity got the better of me. 

I now understand why my friends and family back home feel terrified by the latest developments in this really quite shite year. The language used was apocalyptic; mutant strains that are 70% more transmissible, crisis and meltdown, international travel bans and no deal Brexits. It’s all quite scary.

We could debate if the language is used in such a way to deliberately foster a greater level of civil obedience amongst people already jaded and confused by knee-jerk changes to policy and practice. But that’s not for now. On a human level, Christmas has truly been cancelled for many – or at least it’s going to be very, very different.

 

Until Next Year by a stripped-back version of The Horse Puppets neatly sums up how many must now be feeling. This is a melancholic song about not being together at Christmas, about looking forward resiliently to 2021 in the hope of better times because that’s all of the positive thinking we can muster. With pedal steel and chilled vocal, it’s one of the best country-folk songs you’ll hear all week.

“Next year we can’t wait to travel again, we miss seeing the world and meeting up with friends and family again. This Christmas we’ll be missing out on our normal family get together, first time in our lives,“, says Paul from The Horse Puppets when I ask what plans they have for Christmas and beyond.

2020 was looking like it was going to be a biggie for the seven-piece band from Manchester. With festival slots lined up, their infectious, energetic brand of music would have met the ears of larger crowds. Instead, husband and wife team, Paul and Helen have hosted weekly gigs as an acoustic duo to the world from their living room. It’s brought them attention though I’m sure they would prefer the fun of the festival circuit. 

I’m not going to be seeing most of my friends and family until next year. We’re all in that boat but at least we still have the music to get us through.

 

 

Lori Triplett – Coming Home Alone

Christmas songs – I’ve never been much of a fan and I guess that’s why they have hardly ever featured on Sonic Breakfast. Many of the most popular are forced-fun frenzies; I can think of nothing worse than it being Christmas every day if I’m honest if it means warbling with Mariah. 

It probably says much about the person I am but I’m much more drawn to the sad Christmas song. Characters who were lonely last Christmas seem somehow more attached to the reality of life than those who are ringing bells as they dance around the mistletoe. This feeling is amplified in 2020 when the prevalence of the disease means the sensible thing to do is to cancel it all until next year. Bah Humbug. 

Lori Triplett agrees with me about sad Christmas songs. “I’ve always loved them”, she says before acknowledging that 2020 was exactly the right sort of year to be releasing ‘Coming Home Alone’. The Country-based singer-songwriter breaks all of our hearts with her tender tale about a relationship going pear-shaped just in advance of the big day. The excitement of taking your significant other home to meet your family and friends melts as the friendship fades. 

Lori has the perfect vocal delivery for this sort of desolation. She never once over-eggs the sadness; it’s raw and simple, painful and clear. For those of us who have had sad Christmases (all of us?), this is all too easy to relate to. When the strings kick in, I want to weep for Lori’s plight. 

Happy Christmas beautiful people. 

 

Sister Sally – Hey Little Bee

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of routine. I would have laughed at such a statement just a few years ago. Routine equated with living dull, with being unable to be impulsive and with adhering to a status quo. Living to a routine would somehow be cheating myself out of the joys of life I felt as I drove off to my day job each morning.

But then, nearly three years ago, I found myself able to take voluntary redundancy from that day job. With money in the bank, I didn’t need to work for a while and moved to Spain to be much more aimless, to live without routine. The first couple of months were like a holiday but then I found something odd occurring; I began to yearn again for the order that comes with a day job. 

I’m sure that one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed my last five months in Spain so much more than I enjoyed my stint two years ago is that I’ve had the day job to focus on. It’s helped to keep me sane. For many, the attraction of being furloughed soon wore off when everyday becomes a Saturday.

 

Sister Sally released their debut single back in October. ‘Hey Little Bee’ is apparently about being jealous of bees for having a routine. Paddy from the band wrote the jaunty folk tune after leaving University in Birmingham and feeling a tad rudderless. He’s also the bee in the accompanying video that’s surreally trying to find different ways to fly a kite. 

Wispy and flighty, Hey Little Bee makes me smile. If there’s a sting in the tale, it’s definitely passing me by; here we have joyful music-making that marks Sister Sally out as ones to follow with interest in 2021. 

 

 

DIZZY PANDA – Turn Off The Light

I know that I’m not alone when I say that I miss gigs. The life I had just twelve months ago when I hopped onto London buses to travel across the City most evenings now seems like it was a lifetime ago. 

I was delighted to read about the trial being carried out in part by the organisers of Primavera Sound. The forward-thinking Catalonian festival put on a gig in Barcelona at the weekend for more than 500 people. They all had PCR tests and rapid-result checks before entering the Sala Apolo for an evening of entertainment. The ‘results’ of the experiment will be available from January. My fingers are crossed as I’m sure are other fans of gigs, festivals and mass-crowd gatherings.  (Read more here).

Gigs will become odder – of that there is no doubt. One act well placed to benefit from such a change would be LegPuppy. It might have been Halloween when I saw them at the Victoria last year (review here) but the theatrical, dystopian and bizarre world they inhabited now feels like an astute and prescient observation of the immediate future. 

I was delighted to see that DIZZY PANDA, a duo from the Netherlands, cited the influence of LegPuppy in their press release for recent single, Turn Off The Light. I asked Mike from the band about that and he confirmed that LegPuppy ‘really inspires us to develop in a certain direction.’

Even before such a declaration, Turn Off The Light’ already marks DIZZY PANDA as ones to watch. A psychedelic electro-triphop track, it ambles along like a wayward nursery rhyme. Managing to be both ridiculously cute and ever-so-slightly sinister, the chug of the keyboard line consistently chips away as the child-like vocal forms on top. 

The self-produced video, evidently a lockdown labour of love for DIZZY PANDA, provides a sketch for the sketchiness; it all comes together as a glorious whole. 

DIZZy PANDA are an act that I’ll look forward to seeing live one day. “We hope you could help us out as our family and friends don’t like what we do :-)”, say the band. I’m sure that the good readers of Sonic Breakfast will oblige. 

 

12 Limbs – Memoirs & an interview

I don’t believe that I’ve ever featured a Russian act on Sonic Breakfast before. This is largely (wholly) because my knowledge of the ‘scene’ in Russia is negligible. Beyond Tatu and a sprinkling of Eurovision entries, I’d be struggling to name much.

Imagine my delight when I stumbled across 12 Limbs and their tune, Memoirs. It’s a catchy, energetic and ultimately uplifting piece of melodic indie, a statement that urges us to cling on to our memories in this most desperate of years. I was always going to write a blogpost about the song but then Ben, the vocalist from 12 Limbs, agreed to answer a set of questions. Here follows the transcript of that chat (because I find it all interesting)… 

 

Most readers of Sonic Breakfast will know nothing about 12 Limbs. What’s your elevator pitch?

We are three piece band from Russia. Our music is eclectical and spans rock, pop, indie and electro. Having been together since the beginning of 2000s, we never tried make it big in Russia, because rock in our country is based on poetry more than on music. Any band singing in English becomes outcast automatically.  Our initial musical exploits together began in 2003-2007, when we were students. It was before the social media started forming the music DIY scene for bands like us. Getting no attention from the big labels in Russia, we disbanded in 2007 and went our separate ways working with other bands, until all of them went off the track in 2019. Feeling much more confident in our musical skills, we got together again and started producing and releasing our tracks in the UK. 

And why should readers of Sonic Breakfast be listening to your music? 

Well, Why not! We’re a true band, a band who make music that isn’t manufactured; we don’t try to create a product to sell or to please genres.  We write what we love. All the lyrics are true, no copying or trying to catch the trends. And check the latest single “Memoirs”, it’s an experiment of making a track on three basic chords. But these chords are right.

What’s the Russian Indie Rock scene like? Are there other bands you’d recommend to us? 

Talking about Russian bands singing in English, check out Coo-Koo, with their single F.U.C.K., they had some commercial success about 10 years ago. Other bands keeping afloat have similar stories to us, most started in the early noughties and it’s taken them time to establish.  Pompeya and On-the-Go are those I can recommend. The only Russian band that’s ever played on Glasto ( kind of 6th scene, 12.00 am appearance as we call it) was Jack Wood, but they disbanded because they had no fanbase outside Russia. 

We played in a couple decent bands whose music is still available online. Search for Fra Angeliko and Odd Flat.

What’s been the best gig you’ve ever played? What made it so special?

The highlight in our formative years, was in 2006, when we shared the main stage with Russian rock-legends in front of 2000 people. The pandemic has frozen our live gigging recently, but once we can get back on the road, those will be fantastic days for us. However, we did manage to record a live set including the video for ‘Memoirs’ during this isolating year.

Complete ignorance on my part but is the Russian gig scene vibrant? Are there lots of venues? Do you have a festival circuit? 

We had everything working perfectly until 2020. Big bands from around the globe headlined the fests in Russia and gigging actively across the big cities. It’s all torn to pieces now like everywhere in the West. Russia is much more involved and connected to the world of showbiz as you can imagine. 

If you had to come up with your dream festival headliners, who’d be on the list?

If we are talking about active artists, we’d be happy to share the stage with the bands like Kings of Leon, Franz Ferdinand, The Libertines, White Lies, The Vaccines, Everything Everything. So many great bands to come across!

I was first drawn to your sounds when I heard ‘Memoirs’ – you describe it as your fight back song. What will be your memoirs of 2020? 

This is a stolen year. And we still don’t know how many of them are ahead. We produced as much content as we could this year. That’s the only thing we could do. So we are packed for releases in 2021 which is the only good point could be made about this year. 

And looking forward what are you hoping for more than anything else in 2021? 

Live gigs, live gigs, live gigs!!! And breakthrough single of course.

What words of advice might you offer to other musicians from across the globe in 2020? 

There’s so much music around that you don’t need to worry about being anyone other than yourself. It’s the only way it might work now. 

Tell us your favourite joke? 

Oh, we could be much more successful as comedians than musicians if we wanted too. We produce tons of jokes everyday. Sometimes we post it on our Instagram. There was a schedule of our gigs for April of 2020:  April 3rd- kitchen, 4th- bathroom,5th- balcony,6th- headlining bedroom!

 

Many thanks to Ben for spending the time to answer these questions. It’s truly appreciated. I’ll certainly be checking out those recommendations and keeping my fingers crossed that 2021 does have that breakthrough single for 12 Limbs. Release more bangers such as ‘Memoirs’ and it becomes a distinct possibility. 

 

 

Roller Derby – I Wish & Flying High

Forming a band in 2020 can’t have been an easy task. It hasn’t stopped Hamburg’s Roller Derby from making quite an impact though. They’ve just released the second single of an intriguing trilogy and I thought I’d give Sonic Breakfast readers the heads up. 

You can write about the two songs but keep in mind that the first videos don’t match each other on the first sight. Only after the third video the coherent story will become clear. The third video will connect the first two videos. 🙂“, says Manuel, guitar player in the band when I ask him about the concept. I like the idea of a slow reveal, a bit of speculation and I’m all up for a guessing game about what is actually going on here. 

In the opening gambit, the video for ‘I Wish’, we find our protagonist at the breakfast table. As croissants are consumed, we slowly get a sense that there’s something cathartic going on. Spirits are lifting as  a relationship that is coming to an end is considered. While the inevitability of a break-up becomes more and more apparent, the appreciation for the other person becomes stronger: “I wish everything for you”, they sing as the chorus fades.

The music is ace. Roller Derby are a three piece and obviously students of wavey 80s sounds and modern indie pop. Philine Meyer has a vocal delivery reminiscent of some of Tracey-Anne Campbell’s fine moments in Camera Obscura. In fact, that’s the band that mostly springs to mind the most for me when considering comparisons. It’s quite a compliment. 

 

Philine appears in the second video released on Friday. In Flying High, she appears in the dreams of our protagonist from the first video and proceeds to get involved in an affectionate bout of mirroring activity. Their touching is touching; the dreamy music ambles along with a subtlety that leads to surprise when the chorus has wormed itself into your head.

The final part of the trilogy and the big reveal is out at the end of January. Until then, we can only speculate about what the link might be. There’s plenty of personal growth being hinted at here and a sense that good things do happen for those that seek not to stagnate. 

What do you think? The month will pass quickly as we ponder.

 

Moscato – Ljomo

A Monday morning in December – for many this represents the last working Monday of the craziest of years before Christmas kicks in. Some will work on through the season and others will keep up their search for employment. It’s been a tough old year.

Whatever the situation, it’s going to be a Monday morning that demands easing into. Whether we’ve overdone things at the weekend playing cards or the combined toll of the previous 50 weeks has worn us down, chances are that we’re going to be starting our days with an amount of jadedness. 

If you’re lucky enough to be feeling fresh as a daisy and full of the joys of Spring allow yourself some time to gloat. Our time will come. 

The situation asks for a gentle tune and Moscato’s Ljomo more than fits the bill. Translated as ‘brightness’ in Icelandic, this atmospheric piece was inspired by a walk at dawn. It’s chilled Folktronica for a chilly Monday and has a beautiful air.

The simple video adds to the emotion. It’s a reminder that we never quite know what’s going on in the heads of others. On the surface, people can be offering up their poker-faces, whilst masking the true feelings beneath. That’s likely to be true today. 

Be kind all. 

 

 

Braw – Whisky In Hand & A Glimpse Of Christmas

Rest ye now ye journeyman

With a whisky in hand, with a whisky in hand

Rest ye now ye journeyman

with a whisky in hand, with a whisky in hand

Woah…

Woah…

And that’s the chorus from a glorious, recent release from two Scottish brothers who specialise in folk-based harmonies and strong, wholesome fayre. You’d be forgiven for thinking that The Proclaimers have released a new track from that description but these are the new kids on the block – let me introduce you to Braw. 

Whisky In Hand is a simple delight. The brothers Braw say that it “was written as an anthem for the quiet moments at the end of a Scottish day, where there’s nothing left to be done but have a dram, thinking of your family and friends.”

Here, relatively alone (by choice) in Spain, I rarely turn to whisky for my evening tipple. But I do find myself contemplating with a glass of red by the fireside about family and friends. It’s been a tough year for all of us. We’ve not been able to be half as social as we would like to be. And I’m sure that the scars from this will affect us for years to come. 

This isn’t meant to be a morose post though. Braw have the ability to uplift the darkest spirit, to unblock the peatiest challenges. The video for Whisky In Hand is a joy to watch; a dram is ‘virtually’ passed around for sharing amongst the Braw clan with chuckle-raising consequence. It shows how warped my head has become this year that I initially think about the hygiene of such an act before then being able to properly focus on the true meaning here; this is all about sharing the good moments with friends and family.

 

And hark – what’s that jingling sound coming from over yonder? Just yesterday, Braw released a Christmas single. I don’t think that Sonic Breakfast has ever featured a Christmas song before (bah humbug) but this is too good to overlook. 

A Glimpse Of Christmas is tapping into the same themes as Whisky In Hand. With far too much cheese, a quantity that’s only good for you within Christmas tunes,  Braw have written a cracker. As we all progress towards what will be a reserved celebration for many, there can be no better way to share the love between family and friends.