Gaby K – Nope.

It’s ok to say ‘No’. But, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. For many of us polite souls who care so much about the happiness and feelings’ of others, it’s weirdly preferable to go along with the flow because it seems like the safe option. Yes, we all have to compromise sometimes and I’m not suggesting that we all become so stubborn and obstinate about everything that the world stops turning. But, there is more balance to be had.

 

Today, Sonic Breakfast heads back into the pop crops of Birmingham (Sutton Coldfield to be precise) to highlight the wonderful Gaby K and her fine song, Nope. It’s a spirited dose of ‘girl power’ from a 25 year old who has clearly seen the benefits of taking back control. 

I wrote this song a few years ago and I feel very strongly towards it.”, says Gaby. “It’s about a past relationship which started out well but slowly I began to realise my love was being taken for granted and I was unhappy. I didn’t feel I had the confidence to tell him how I really felt when I finally ended the relationship. I want people who listen to this song and if they ever come across a similar situation to find the confidence to stand up for themselves. Writing this song was my way of expressing my feelings and giving me the closure I needed. Even though it is upsetting, at the end of the day it is your life to live and you cannot allow someone to take advantage and ruin that. Don’t cry for them, they don’t deserve it, laugh at them instead.

Can’t disagree with that. The video finds Gaby building her confidence with a support network of friends. The ex becomes unimportant as the dance moves begin and the wine gets quaffed. 

In the words of the cast from Grange Hill (and hideously misrepresenting their original meaning), Just Say No.

Fiona Brown – My Void

How do I ‘cope’ with loneliness? That’s the rather blunt question that I’m asking myself this morning. 

My initial response is one of denial. I’m one of the lucky ones and loneliness is just not something that I feel. That’s not to say that loneliness doesn’t exist, rather that I block it out by keeping busy. A few years ago, I’d find it impossible to sit still on my own for an evening. And so, I’d go to the pub or to a gig. I might not speak to anybody when out but I’d see people being sociable and having fun. That was enough to ward off any of the lonely spirits lurking at my door. In recent years, I’ve got better with solitude. I like my own company more. But I’m not sure I’d like it as much as I do if it wasn’t for the online conversations that I have through Sonic Breakfast – or the hours of zoom calls that I have with the day job. 

I conclude that I ‘cope’ with loneliness by feeling connected; that connectedness might be illusory but I’m happier to kid myself than to get rid of the comfort blankets I’ve created. 

 

Fiona Brown’s single from last year, My Void, touches on the same kind of thought process. Amidst a chilled, almost trip-hoppy ambience, Fiona creates a character who’s experiencing the extremes of loneliness – and finds that the only way to counter such feelings is to indulge in online shopping, go clubbing or to manufacture an alter ego. The video compounds the dark themes present in the tune; in it, we find Fiona stripping away at the layers she’s deliberately added to keep the wolf from her door. 

Fiona’s living in Antwerp. Her debut album ‘Mundane’ will be released over the next few months. My Void helps to whet our interest before that. In a really bad effort to lighten the mood, I ask Fiona how the supermarket shelves are looking with UK goods post-Brexit. “I think we still have marmite“, says Fiona. “So I do wonder if it’s secretly continental made!

If you’re currently feeling lonely, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are all in this together. 

Astral Pedlars – Where’s The Underground?

Often, it only takes a line. That was certainly the case with the press release from Astral Pedlars and their ‘Where’s The Underground?’ single. Astral Pedlars spend much time in that press release explaining that their songs are an ‘existential journey towards the portals of transcendence: Freedom, Unity, Creativity and Good Times.’. If I’m honest, It all goes a bit over my head when they talk of daemons, the subconscious and the opening of those portals. But then, just as I’m minded to give up, I spot the line:-

“We’re part of a group of DIY musicians in London who run a regular gig and disco night at the George Tavern under the name Infinite Pop Underground.”

I only ever got to the George Tavern once during my year-long tour of London’s gig venues. I vowed to go back but Covid-19 has scuppered those plans for now. It was a little over a year ago though that seems much longer given what has gone on since. 

That night was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Kevin Hewick’s first gig with Factory Records. John Hollingsworth entertained all with his tales of life from within the music industry. And Kevin was on top form live; his voice soared like an angel as he seemingly channelled all of those decades of experience into one night only. It was a beguiling, cheeky and captivating watch; I know how great Kevin can be live (here’s an earlier review I wrote for eGigs – here) but this night was something else. I fully intended to write about it on Sonic Breakfast but chose instead to sit on a stool at the bar, to drink the beer on offer and to take it all in. 

I digress. I ask Roy, the lead singer from Astral Pedlars, how things are at The George Tavern. “It was one of the venues to get the gov support the first time round, which is good news for them.“, he says “I’m not sure the extent of it and if it is still helping them now. But I’m sure they will pull through.” 

I hope that’s the case. The imposing, old coaching inn out in Mile End, apparently mentioned in Chaucer and Dickens, offers a classic space for gig-going. London has many of these classic spaces and the optimist in me yearns that they might all be flourishing again by the end of 2021. The pessimist suspects this is a forlorn hope. 

I digress again. ‘Where’s The Underground?’ by Astral Pedlars is bloody good. It’s their first single and it’s catchy as hell. A bouncy flute hook tangles with a dance-laden synth as Roy sings over the top of it all. Astral Pedlars cite Talking Heads as an influence (alongside Kierkegaard, Tillich, Socrates, Nietzche, and Guy Debord) and you can certainly see that coming to the fore in this release. At its core, “Where’s the Underground? is a song of searching and longing.

As I leave the gig at the George Tavern, I become acutely aware that I have over-indulged; the beer has gone to my head. I find somebody milling around and ask them where the nearest underground is? It seems like a complicated trek so I hail a taxi instead. 

VOLK – Welcome To Cashville

Yesterday was Valentines Day. If I was a blogger of any note, I would have found the most loving, schmaltzy piece of music to share and then praised it to high heaven. Anything to increase the hits, eh? There are artists who release Christmas songs because they think that such tactical consideration is the path to fame and wealth. Those that drown you with their saccharine love on February 14th take such cynicism to a whole new level. I chose instead to take a day away from blogging. 

One suspects that VOLK are pretty unlikely to sell their souls to the PR machine. I ask the raucous, cowpunk duo from Nashville what they’d like to see happen in 2021. 

Naive thought, but we’d get rid of all the algorithms and money obsession in the music industry and allow artists to truly follow their passions and creative whims,“, they offer. “That’s got to be better than following fads and mimicry, trying to figure out the next Instagram hack or to become a tik tok viral sensation. Honestly, it feels more like we are PR agents rather than artists these days.

That anger with parts of the music industry spews out in Chris and Eleot’s recently released single, ‘Welcome To Cashville’. If you’re looking for a tune to help dislodge the Monday morning cobwebs, this could well be the one. Rough and rambunctious, deliberately messy and boisterous, this is a song that neatly mixes rock ‘n’ roll riffage with hard-living Country. Legends of yesteryear such as Townes Van Zandt are heralded whilst the acts that depend on autotune and DJ mixes are dispatched to the garbage. Healthily theatrical, OTT and sarcastic, you can’t help but be drawn to a band who observe that “2020 has sucked more than a Nickelback double live album on loop.”

VOLK were clocking up more than 200 shows per year before the pandemic raged. It’s no surprise what Chris and Eleot want to do more than anything else right now. “The first thing we are gonna do at each of our shows after the pandemic is hug, drink with, and laugh with our good friends on the road!

Have a Rocking Monday y’all… 

Jonny Ong & Inch – Taking Silence

It was at the mighty Shambala festival back in 2013 that I first became aware of the new instrument called the Hang, a steel drum-like thing created in Swiss music laboratories. My friend, Phil, had seen the Hang Massive play somewhere else that festival season and highly recommended that we nipped into a late night tent to watch them whilst allowing ourselves to drift in and out of sleep. It was a beautiful, beguiling experience. I wrote about it in this review here

I confess I’ve not followed the development of the instrument much since. But a quick scan of Wikipedia pages suggests that a tense and intriguing business battle and sometime legal challenge has sprung up around the name. The reluctance of the makers of the Hang to allow others to adopt the name has led to the creation of other similar instruments; handpans and pantams. Who would have thought that an instrument with such a chilled, relaxing sound could generate such intense, muso-political debate?

It’s not my job to stoke those embers (though I do think the instrument’s early history could make for a really quirky Netflix series). Jonny Ong is the subject of today’s Sonic Breakfast post and he’s forged a reputation for himself in the murky world of the handpan. The multi-instrumentalist from Singapore was inspired to pick up the instrument after seeing one being played by a busker on the streets of Amsterdam.

And sure enough, the opening segment of Jonny’s latest track, ‘Taking Silence’, features the reassuring tones of the handpan. Before long though, this dynamic collaboration with a Singaporean singer-songwriter, Inch, blossoms out into all sorts of other avenues. We get funky brass and an almost-indie guitar-based climax. It all makes for an exciting musical cacophony.

On my previous albums, I’ve focussed on the handpan – this time, I wanted it to be all about the songs,” says Jonny. “I wanted it to feel cinematic. That’s why I went for a lot of strings and horns.

The video for ‘Taking Silence’, an animated adventure exploring life under the ocean simply adds to the psychedelic fun. Hang The DJ.

 

Julia Faulks – Not Losing Sleep

There’s an instructional, ‘life-coachy’ quote that does the rounds on social media with some regularity. “Be yourself; everyone else is taken” is a wisdom widely attributed to Oscar Wilde even though scholars of the great playwright maintain that he never uttered such a phrase. There’s something slightly absurd at play here but this is not a blog post about fake news. Regardless of who said it (and attaching it to Wilde undoubtedly gives it more pithy gravitas), it’s still a quote that holds some truth. 

But being yourself isn’t easy, right? It’s much easier to hold an inferiority complex or to deliberately sabotage what you’re really capable of achieving than to raise your head above the parapet and to seize the day. Instead of making ourselves vulnerable, we do what we’re comfortable with and limit our ambition. We’ll make excuses about how impossible our own dreams are to realise whilst applauding those who make the bold steps. 

I have always loved music and even though my piano and guitar playing is pretty sub-standard, there are melodies in my head which can’t be contained.“, says Julia Faulks in the press release for her single, ‘Not Losing Sleep’. “This was what always held me back (apart from the fact that I am 40 and a mum of two!) – worrying that I couldn’t do it without being a Grade 8 student or having a music degree (although this probably would have helped somewhat…).

Immediately, I’m drawn to Julia’s bold steps. Here’s somebody who’s now being herself to achieve a dream. And ‘Not Losing Sleep’ has much going for it. Within the relaxed groove and sultry chilled vibe, Julia sings confidently about a relationship that’s run its course. This is not a ‘woe is me’ tragedy though; saving the self-pity for the break-up songs of other singers, Julia gives the impression that she’s happy to be moving on. She’s ‘not losing sleep’.

HALAN – A Waste

There’s not a lot of happiness around at the moment. Mostly, I’ll use these daily Sonic Breakfast posts to publish happy songs, bouncy tunes that might add a bit of sunshine and smile into our miserable lives. I guess that there’s no harm though to talk about tunes that wallow a bit more in the isolation, loneliness and personal strife that we all must be feeling from time to time as the pandemic progresses? 

That’s not to say that I’m feeling especially down right now. The casual reader of Sonic Breakfast could be excused for drawing that conclusion. This week, I’ve returned from the beautiful sunshine and warm terrace of Spain to the dreary drudge and sludge of the U.K.. Friends and colleagues have been asking me how I’ve been finding the enforced social isolation – my ten days of being stuck in one terraced cottage unable to even head out for a walk. And the truth is that I have no real desire to go out and I’m largely positive about the experience. There are supplies of beers and wine – and Sarah is being a Saint in responding to my ‘demands’ for food with patience and good spirit. It’s good to have company around. Once again, Sonic Breakfast has landed on its feet.

HALAN’s new(ish) electronic dark pop song, ‘A Waste’, finds our singer in an entrenched place. A persistent bass beat lends doom as a wistful vocal gives focus to the hopelessness of the situation. “There are some things you can fight for as hard as you want but can’t change the outcome of“, offers the accompanying PR note with bleak and honest inevitability. 

I ask HALAN how things are for her in Los Angeles right now and she acknowledges that it’s been pretty bad in terms of the cases so she’s pretty much a hermit, just staying home and making music. But, HALAN, a former vocalist in rock and metal bands, also mentions some positive plans on the horizon. “The first thing I want to do after the pandemic is probably go to a concert.”, she says. “I really want to go the Rammstein one if possible. They’re hard to catch! And I definitely want to travel. Maybe to South Korea with my mom, or to Iceland to see the northern lights.

I guess it’s good form for all of us to cling to such dreams? Even if the more pessimistic outlook displayed in today’s song might offer a more accurate dose of reality. 

Nothing’s fair to anyone,What you planned can come undone,What you spend can be a waste, Where you reach can be outrun“, sings HALAN four times with increasing intensity in the song’s outro. I’ll leave that there for consideration. 

StanLei – Wake Up

It seems kind of obvious that Sonic Breakfast, a blog with the tag-line ‘Music musings with your muesli’, should feature a song called ‘Wake Up’. The breezy chorus of the tune and gentle, laidback beat could be perfect fodder for those still yawning, dabbing the sleepy dust from their eyes and trying to get their arses into gear for an inevitably busy Wednesday. 

But it doesn’t take long to realise that StanLei’s ‘Wake Up’ is asking you to do so much more than to smell the coffee percolating in your cafetière. This is a protest song, a call to arms that’s urging us all to take much more interest in the political, environmental and social issues of the day. “We are all in this together so why cant you take a minute before you sit back down, put your blinkers on and settle in it“, says StanLei in the song before another chorus kicks in.

StanLei (‘stan-lay’) – real name Jennifer Stanley Smith – is a singer songwriter and producer based in Toulouse. Leaving the adopted hometown of Bristol to spend years travelling as a nomadic seasonal worker, Jenny looks to have now settled in France. It’s from there that her debut album will be released, hopefully in April. 

Having spent one unexpected night in Toulouse back in 2018, I obviously hardly feel qualified to wax lyrical about the place. But the city did seem to have a vibrant energy and an ‘alternative’ culture that marked it out from other parts of a slightly dated, stuffy France that I’d been previously travelling through. “Toulouse is a really cool city, it even reminds me a bit of Bristol.“, says StanLei when I mention my sole visit. “I’m actually in the countryside outside Toulouse now though so 2020/2021 has been a bit more bearable here I think.”

Being free to travel across France (or to drive across any Continent) seems a long way away right now. But that surely doesn’t mean that I have to self-isolate without talking about the things that really matter. Today is a day to begin to ‘take back my power.’

Natálie Grossová – Girls

One of the few beautiful things to come out of this year for me is our weekly quiz. I had kept in sporadic touch with the guys that I went to Polytechnic with before Covid 19 but now the disease seems to have given focus – reinvigorating those friendships from Bristol is of vital importance. 

It started with a whatsapp group and quickly the suggestion formed that a zoom quiz might be a cool thing to do. I’m not sure that any of us thought then that it would become a weekly thing or that it would be so successful in warding of our boredom but now not a day goes by without us saying good morning and wishing each other well. We look after each other from afar and that feels cosy. Two weeks ago, Mole led the quiz and I laughed so much that tears fell – that’s not happened for years. This is my therapy. 

The guys on the quiz will likely not care much for Natálie Grossová’s single, ‘Girls’. And I get that. This is pure pop with a sprinkling of cheese, a bit too glossy and upbeat for their more sophisticated tastes. But I maintain that pop done well with catchy, singalong choruses and synchronised dancing in a carefree video is of equal artistic merit to the serious and austere. We all need to smile right now – and there’s joy-a-plenty in this. 

Natália talks about some of the inspiration behind ‘Girls’. “I had a problem with groups my whole life but time went by and I got to know new people and found great friends.“, she says. “I want to say, through my debut song as an artist, that you don’t need a bunch of fake friends but just a few that will stick together and support you whatever it takes!

The musical theatre star from Prague might be emphasising female solidarity within ‘Girls’ but the wider theme of strength through friendship is universal. Today it’s the morning to take a quick step back from the brink, to reach out and to cherish those friends who have our back.

 

Moontwin – Waiting For Fall

I’m almost asleep. I can feel myself dozing off into dreamland. A game of cricket that I played in 2008 comes to mind; it was windy and icy then, certainly not the summer weather that one associates with the sport. With no obvious logic, I’m now an extra in the cast of the film ‘Titanic’. I’ve never actually seen the film but here I am appearing in my very own version. Icebergs ahoy! As I look out to see the white mass in the distance, it becomes a gigantic Christmas cake, the icing crisp, the decoration beautiful and intricate, much like my late Nan used to make. Red ribbons, green garnish. Deep breath. Sleep.

Moontwin’s ‘Waiting For Fall’ also “explores the twilight world that exists between dreamstate and waking“, according to their press release. “A fluid, shape-shifting space where conversations, random moments and thoughts can sneak into our sub-conscious, often revealing new meaning and unexpected significance..

I’ve never really paid close attention those random thoughts I have on the edge of sleep. Perhaps I closed my mind to them because I thought that I was a bit strange for imagining such things as cricket, icebergs and Christmas cakes. I’m glad I’m not the only one. 

The Moontwin duo, Maple Bee (Melanie) and Zac live 1700 miles apart, one in Bulgaria and the other in the UK. I ask them how such remote working can work. “For Moontwin it’s pretty much normal for us….”, they say. “We have worked and hung out together online for the last 4 years! – so where ‘screen life’ and socialising online has recently become the norm for the larger population it’s business as usual for us. We did manage to meet up in Plovdiv, Bulgaria just before the Covid-19 situation took serious hold which was amazing…we were supposed to be touring the UK at the end of last year…obviously that didn’t happen but we are keeping busy working on the new record and making videos to go with each release we put out.

If those releases are as grand as ‘Waiting For Fall’ then Moontwin have a fan in Sonic Breakfast. Always a sucker for a bit of spoken word verse, this tune has it in bucketloads before a wispy, ethereal and dare I say it, dreamy chorus chimes in. 

Excuse me whilst I grab twenty minutes more sleep before Monday kicks in?