ALMA – WATER RISES

The wonderful ALMA have been in touch again. “We wrote a party song about climate catastrophe“, they tell me in conversation.

Since I last exchanged mails with them towards the end of 2020 (review here), the trio have been busy setting out their stall. I don’t recall their website being quite the hub of information that it is now but, by their own acknowledgement, their operation was fledgling when we first talked. Just look at the progress now. (Website link)

I bet we’ve all made progress in the last six months? Despite the inevitable slowing down that I’d hazard we’ve all experienced as a result of lockdowns, I’m sure we could all look back on where we were at last year and identify areas in which we’ve personally grown. Some things must have got better for us. Individual evolution makes the world go round, right?

So why the fuck does the world continue to die? Why do we all still lurch towards climate catastrophe without making the changes that are required? Is it that it’s all too complicated and that it’s easier for somebody else to worry about that stuff? Where’s the outrage a week after the collected outpourings at Earth Day?

ALMA are outraged by it all. Latest single, WATER RISES, is a protest song in its finest sense. Some choose to shout, scream and holler when recording their frustrations but ALMA don’t take that path. They shroud their anger in stunning and playful harmony. WATER RISES is a thing of sweet beauty; the count to 11 is simplistic and nursery-rhyme like; a rock around the clock when time is running out. 

WATER RISES harks back to Hurricane Sandy and the visible high-water marks that those floods have left on the streets of New York. There’s anger that the promised defences against rising sea levels have yet to materialise and that there’s an accident waiting to happen (again). As authorities fiddle, New York could flood. Or any other city that hasn’t sorted out its infrastructure. 

When the spring has disappeared, We’ll make plastic flowers for the trees.“, conclude ALMA somewhat ominously. There are things we can all do to protest and act against such a disaster. 

Josh Halper – Honest Feeling

Boris Johnson, the Teflon Prime Minister, seems to be in trouble again. His capacity for dishonesty knows no bounds and it looks very much like he has broken ministerial code by getting a benefactor to loan him funds to decorate the Downing Street flat. The money that’s being reported would generally fund the refurbishment or renovation of a run-down house to help provide accommodation for people who are homeless. Just saying. But, it is of no consequence to many in the British public and Major Sleaze will likely go on to fight other battles. He’ll never know that honest feeling. It’s all a game to him.

 

In Josh Halper’s song, Honest Feeling, we find the Nashville resident gently chiding those who flood his hometown with false optimism and misplaced hope. This (to me) is a song for artists who get smoke blown up their arses by over-enthusiastic managers and promoters. It’s a song about not getting too excited by such praise because it will inevitably lead to disappointment. 

The lyrics though are open to interpretation. I guess that’s the way that Josh wants the closing track on his album, ‘Alrightnik’, to be. An ‘Alrightnik’ is an American-Yiddish slang term for a successful person, but of the nouveau riche kind — a little crass, a little smug. Useful contextual knowledge and a phrase we could certainly be chucking the way of Boris.

If you’re a fan of the works of Elliott Smith, it’s likely that you’ll find much to love in this track; the crisp yet complex guitar-picking giving way to a gentle, playful vocal. The alt-country on offer here is nostalgic. The charming and beautifully-shot video is a lesson on how to go fishing for a friend. 

Let’s hope that Boris has a thirst for honest feelings today; let’s hope we all do. Happy Thursday. 

The Vaine Man – Addendum

One of my favourite blogposts from this year is the interview that I was able to carry out with John Swale (here). He answers my questions in such entertaining fashion that it makes for a great read. So when John gets in touch with a recommendation it’s inevitable that my interest will be piqued. Last month, he did just that introducing me to his friend, Mircha Ivens, and the enigmatic project of ‘The Vaine Man’.

 

‘The Vaine Man’ has just released their second single. ‘Addendum’ is a complex and glorious swirl of industrial electronica; artistic, glamorous and with glimpses of scratchy psychedelia, this cinematic piece refuses to be pigeon-holed and stands up all the better to scrutiny as a result. “The song sounds like Walker Brothers’ song Nite Flights was covered by The Knife then remixed for the post gender generation by Grimes“, says the press release confirming that genre confusion.

Mircha directed the accompanying video; the radio edit of the song extended to suit the short film experience and a spoken word piece of poetry bolted on to the beginning. At its heart, Addendum is perhaps a song about letting go of trauma, a footnote encouraging the move-on from a challenging relationship. It’s both confident and disorientating, creative and poppy. 

It’s what you expect a young Bowie might be producing right now – and that’s high praise indeed for a Wednesday morning. 

Palo G – Memorias

I’ve taken a few days away from Sonic Breakfast posts. It’s been a necessary thing to do. The morning routine has been taking longer when I’ve had to do it with a limp. Things that you take for granted like putting your socks on suddenly become an epic battle of mind over matter. I’m feeling better now though with more mobility – ready to fire on all cylinders again.

 

I needed a banger of a tune to get me through the weekend; that’s what we get in Palo G’s latest, Memorias. Spirited and strident, this mix of Latin rhythm, flamenco guitar and nailed-on message won’t fail to turn your head. In the pre-chorus, Palo recalls the years from eleven to sixteen and first becoming aware of the damaging impact of gender identity problems and sexual assault trauma. “y yo le dije que no, y tu seguistes, y en el infierno my alma pusistes“, is sung as the memories build, a stark line and one that can’t fail to elicit outrage from any right-minded listener. 

At its heart though, Memorias is a triumphant battle against adversity. Palo is resurgent and railing against the things that once weighed heavy on the mind. This is an anthem of strength, a courageous note on the power of self-worth that manages to remain playful whilst offering up a serious message. I exchange E-mails with Palo, now living in Berlin after growing up in Marbella, and find her in an optimistic mood.

I like the opportunities Berlin offers and of course the open mentality.“, she says. “It’s not better than Spain, it’s different… weather definitely is not a pro but summers here are wonderful and full of life. First thing I will do when the restrictions lift up is go for dinner with my girlfriend to this awesome zero waste restaurant called Frea, she gave it to me for my birthday and since then we haven’t been able to use it. Can’t wait to enjoy gastronomy to the fullest again.

The mail continues. “2021 has been a year of full realisation on how the world works, dismantling capitalism and the patriarch and understanding complex world problems. It has also been a year of self awareness. Memorias was an important step in my life, I am very content with the positive response especially to the message of the song.

Personal issues with my knee suddenly seem so remarkably insignificant – and rightly so. Have wonderful Sunday’s one and all. 

Rhona Stevens – Melanin

The dodgy knee has meant that I’ve been less able to get out and enjoy this week’s sunshine. My daily walk has been scrapped as the gentle hobbling inside becomes easier day by day. I’ve been invited to a clinic tomorrow and I’ll know more then about my general prognosis. Today, amongst other things, I’m feeling a little grumpy as I’m missing out on the chance of some vitamin D.

At least, there is still music. And what better way to lighten the mood than to listen to a tune about sunshine? Written to provide the listener with a little bit of warmth, the bouncy and perky ‘Melanin’ by Rhona Stevens is today’s Sonic Breakfast pick. 

 

I was feeling at the end of my tether with the cold, dark, dragging Scottish winters when I wrote Melanin.“, says Rhona in the press release. “It was a bit of escapism for me, focusing on what I wished for, living vicariously through those lyrics.

It works for me. With bright jazz, folk and indie tone, this is music to help you feel happy. It avoids the trap of becoming too sweet and saccharine though; a nutty gloss ensuring that there’s enough on offer here for it not to be simple or throwaway. 

Rhona’s got a busy year planned. She’s already released a grand follow-up single to ‘Melanin’ in ‘Lay It Down’. It would appear that the positive and spirited approach is going to be a consistent feature of her output. “I’m making an effort to release uplifting songs only this year,” she says when we exchange E-mails. “Wash the intensity and hardness away; maybe soften into spring time and dare I say, look forward to the summer months?!

She’s got the next few months all thought through. “Firstly, a haircut and then to a beer garden. My grand plan though is to spend some time at my family home in the countryside and then travel onto the Highlands and island to visit friends there – as soon as I can. I haven’t left the city since the brief hiatus for Christmas so some fresh air and hill walking is definitely beckoning.

Ooh- hill walking. Now I’m just feeling envious. I guess that’ll be a little way off for me. Still, the rays of the sun feel good and a little bit of melanin will surely not fail to perk me up. 

 

 

Tanoki (featuring Farah Elle) – Loading

It’s a perk of the music blogger’s life that you get to listen to a lot of music. Some of it gets sent to me by E-mail. I might not always respond because I receive a lot of mails but acts with the right approach will invariably get through. Just recently, I’ve been making use of the website, Musosoup, to source bands and songs that I want to write about. There’s an option within the site to charge acts money for the words that I cobble together about them. For some websites, it seems important to make their product into a commercial enterprise. Sonic Breakfast has never and will never be that site. No funds are exchanged between me and the bands I write warmly about. I do this for the love. 

One immediate turn-off for me in the music I hear is if no thought has been given to the lyrical content. It happens with appalling regularity. It’s almost as if the songwriters of today are deliberately encouraged to write vacuous couplets with limited meaning; you actually find yourself wondering in the most extreme cases if they’ve just left their computers to generate a random pattern of words based upon cliched phrases from millions of songs from the past. 

 

Tanoki’s latest single, Loading, draws influence from this idea. “The song is a commentary on what we’re doing with technology and how it’s intersecting with our lives.“, says Paul Mahon, the Kilkenny-based songwriter, producer and visual artist behind Tanoki. “As we lose what makes us human in exchange for the robotic, I want listeners to imagine the kind of lyrics that might come from an android, the cyborgs we’re becoming.

Tanoki enlists the services of singer-songwriter, Farah Elle, to provide a hypnotic vocal over the funked-up, trip-hop grounded, electronica that he’s created. Farah is an interesting character. With roots in both Libya and Ireland, Farah is proud of her Mum for taking a significant role in leading the way against the tyranny of the Gadaffi regime (from within Ireland). You suspect that Farah Elle will not be short of things to say or lyrics to write and mark her down as another to watch. Paul and Farah became friends and collaborators after he directed a music video of hers. 

Human content and human stories – it’s what we want. 

TIËRNY – Lonely Are The Brave

I made no post yesterday. I feel a sense of personal disappointment when this happens. There was good reason though. I woke and after a call to 111, Sarah quite rapidly took me into the local accident and emergency department of the nearest hospital. My leg had locked overnight at a 90 degree angle. I couldn’t straighten it at the knee. I wasn’t in pain, save for if I tried to make it straight. Then, the agony was excruciating.

I heard yesterday that Helen McCrory has passed away. I’m not one for TV series; my attention span isn’t up to much but would count Peaky Blinders as one of my all-time favourites. You can’t help but adore the family of rogues (lovable) that it observes. Polly, the part that Helen plays, is a strong matriarch that you grow to respect. Helen’s passing at the tender age of 52 reminds us all of our mortality. 

And when I was holed up, leg outstretched in a splint, only able to hobble slowly on crutches from room to room, the grief for somebody I only know on the screen was compounded. 

I was planning to feature TIĒRNY’s ‘Lonely Are The Brave’ yesterday. I had it all planned out in my head before the necessary diversion took over. But in so many ways, it fits better today. TIËRNY is from Liverpool and describes her genre as gothic alt-pop. On ‘Lonely Are The Brave’ we find her exploring themes of love, loss and isolation. When I watched the video (and in advance of hearing about the news about Polly), I couldn’t help but think about the religious menace, the adverse humanity, on offer in Peaky Blinders. 

It would appear that I’m going to be forced into watching more TV series in the coming weeks as I find ways to rest my left leg. 

Arbor Green – As We Grow

If you’re going to take a dip in the North Sea in January you either have to be much hardier than I am or extremely desperate to feel something new!” – Ali Begg, Arbor Green

I’ve been reading about the growing amount of people who take cold showers in the morning. They’re often the same people who find unfathomable amounts of pleasure in cold water wild swimming. Without wetsuit, they plunge into lakes, rivers and pools without a care in the world. They talk evangelically about the health benefits that such extreme activity is providing; it helps with mental agility, daily concentration and in boosting energy levels. As good as that all sounds, I’m not sure that the ‘freezing your nuts off’ treatment is for me. 

I suspect the same is true for Ali Begg, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind emerging Scottish indie-folk act, Arbor Green. In the recent video for their glorious track, As We Grow, we find Ali dunking his body into the sea at a wintry Edinburgh beach.  “I spent a solid hour shivering in a cocoon of towels after that.“, he tells me. “I dunno how all the middle-aged cold water swimmers do it. They’re out there in all fucking seasons.

There is a method to his madness though. The perky and upbeat folk tune dowsed with a liberal sprinkling of Americana masks a lyric that questions ‘the daily grind of a listless reality’. We’re all desperately pursuing the next thing that’ll give us happiness, those moments that’ll lift us out of the general mundanity of life. This is not a happy tale, rather it’s a gloomy, wry reflection on the human condition.   

So I’ll fight like hell, And I’ll hide like a kid, And I’ll scream that I am just so sick of this, All I want is to be gone.“, sings Ali in one key moment of ‘As We Grow’. 

Arbor Green have recently released a new single, Waiting On The Sun. It’s all part of the build-up to the release of a debut-album in the next few months. If the releases so far are indicative of the quality across the album then we’re all in for an alt-country treat. Ali’s delighted that Roddy Hart has been playing the latest single on Radio Scotland. It’s easy to see why it has been getting airplay though. You should check out that single as well. 

But today, take the plunge with ‘As We Grow’.. 

 

 

Scalawag – You On My Mind

I hope we’ve all experienced those hopeless days of infatuation at the start of the best relationships when you can’t get the other out of your head. The very thought of them makes you smile broadly even if you’re miles apart. You can’t wait to spend time with them; you experience butterflies in your tummy just in advance of seeing your partner again. Time spent with them feels so right and you never want it to stop. 

It does of course. The ga-ga feeling that accompanies your stuttering heart is not a sustainable one and probably not a healthy one. Practical realities come back to the fore and you find ways to work out how to be together outside of the first throes of love. Either that or you move on to somebody else so that you can circle back to the hopeless days of infatuation again. A fluttering feeling on repeat. 

Scalawag’s latest single ‘You On My Mind’ is all about those early days in a new relationship. From Vancouver, Teo Saefkow, the man behind Scalawag, explains more in the press release to the song. “I wrote the guitar in 2015, then I waited for 5 years for inspiration to strike for the lyrics” says Teo. “It came one day in early 2020 when I was noodling on the guitar, and I decided to try and make my partner smile. I improvised the lyrics, and they just kinda stuck.

There clearly aren’t enough songs in the world making reference to peanut butter and for that reason alone ‘You On My Mind’ deserves a Sonic Breakfast blogpost about it. It’s also delightfully playful – a gentle acoustic guitar sound merging with a few choice piano flourishes to build into a climax of trumpet and whistles. Sweet, unfettered love sure does sound nice in Teo’s world. He plays all of the instruments himself. “It’s important to me that I create as many of the sounds myself as possible, instead of using stock instruments or samples,“, he says, about the creative process. 

Teo’s having a good, happy year. “2021 has been pretty good so far, there’s a lot of hope in the air, and the weather has been pretty awesome in Vancouver!“, he says when we exchange E-mails. “I’ve been able to write and record a lot, so that’s definitely the biggest highlight. Once the restrictions start to relax I think the first thing I’ll do is just go eat at a restaurant!

The mood around the UK feels similarly positive. Spring is in the air and we wake to blue sky and birdsong. Lockdown relaxations continue to offer improved freedoms (pub anyone?) and I sense a happy Wednesday song will be more than appreciated. 

Elliot Joe Whitehead – Let It Slide

Being stubborn has its place. It feels good when in the midst of an argument to stick our feet firmly in the mud. We know that our position is the right one and we’re not going to budge. Not ever.

This is all well and good for a while but if your encounter is with somebody equally intransigent, it’s not long before the situation is one of impasse. And both parties are just left incredibly miserable by the fact that no progress is being made. Some will choose to never resolve; it’s not in their nature to give ground or to negotiate. But others will see that the original argument was a thing of nonsense and look for ways to reconcile. 

 

That’s the position that Elliot Joe Whitehead finds himself in his catchy-as-hell debut single, ‘Let It Slide’. With a monosyllabic, baritone delivery style, Elliot draws upon all sorts of 80’s influence and DIY charm to issue his own apology. Think Phil Oakey experimenting in his lounge and you mightn’t be too far away from the overall effect. You hope that, by teatime, Elliot has done enough to turn the squelchy mud into a slide that the happy (again) couple can skate over. Top work. 

Elliot , by his own admission an “essentially unknown artist from Greenwich, South-East London, with strong ties to Brighton“, is modestly surprised at the response received about ‘Let It Slide’ since releasing it on Valentine’s Day. “I never really expected it.“, he says when we exchange E-mails. 

He’s now energised for the future months. “First thing out of lockdown is to make a video for my third single, then release the second and then start rehearsals for gigs and then release the third single with a video!“, he tells me. “I’ve got it all figured out! – I think…

Just a few days ago, Elliot added a live performance of ‘Let It Slide’ to YouTube to sit alongside the lyric video. I provide both here because I think they offer a real insight into the DIY ethic of the man. 

Sonic Breakfast likes the energy and looks forward to the future releases (unreservedly and without apology).