I was reminded of a day-job meeting that I had at the back-end of 2019. Whilst drinking copious amounts of coffee, three of us, face to face, began to put the world to rights. We looked forward to the new decade that was around the corner with optimistic zeal. The roaring twenties were going to be the years that we got our houses in order; environmental change was coming and we’d all be getting fitter as we found new social and spiritual priorities. Oh, the benefit of hindsight. The decade has not started as any of us would have imagined.
In his debut single, 2020 Vision, Simon Glancy, also known as Polythene, appears to be in the same place. We find Polythene in the opening gambits of the song broadly optimistic as he welcomes in the new decade. But as the song progresses so does the year; the initial positivity begins to crumble as the reality sets in.
“Sitting in a car, eating Haribo“, sings Polythene deliberately mimicking The 1975 and their much harder “Fucking in a car, shooting heroin” line from ‘Love It If We Made It’. For many of us, the height of excitement in 2020 was to sit in our vehicles eating sweets. Wild!
Musically, the stall of Polythene is clearly set out. This is a song that’s inspired and informed by the very best indie-pop music from the late 1990’s. These were the days when Mark and Lard would pluck a new guitar-wielding band and song out from obscurity and champion them on their mainstream radio breakfast show. 2020 Vision is the type of tune they’d likely be all over if the world of radio hadn’t moved on to grimier pursuits.
An album by Polythene has been recorded. I look forward to hearing that in future months. But for now, let’s all party with a song for the year that wasn’t.
Dani credits me with saving his life. I didn’t but the 24 hours we spent in each other’s company at the Benicassim music festival a few years ago is a story that should be made into a film. From our initial random meeting in the lift of the hotel to the mad morning rush in a taxi to take an ill Dani to the local casualty department, it’s a tale that (with a bit of embellishment for the big screen) has it all. There’s too much involved in it to tell the story now. Dani is from Brazil and, as far as I know, is living there now. He was, at least, when we exchanged messages about the madness of Bolsinaro last year. Lots has gone on in Brazil since then.
The soundtrack to the film would have to feature some Bossa Nova. The offshoot of Samba that emerged as a ‘new wave’ of music in the 1950’s and 1960’s still bears influence in Brazil today – and who better than the Bossa Bandits to bring us some of those tunes? They specialise in Bossa Nova with a British twist; the tropical rhythms merge with bittersweet lyrics for a perfect blending of styles and influence.
Clive B Bossa, the main force behind the Bossa Bandits, takes up the tale from here:-
“I was on a surf trip to the northern beaches of Brazil in 2012 when I fell in love with the sound of Bossa Nova. As a guitarist and percussionist, I was completely hooked and found myself returning to the beaches of Jericoacoara in Ceara state as often as possible so that I could play with the incredible musicians that are attracted to this spot. By 2015, I was regularly getting asked to play in some of the clubs and bars during my trips. Back in London, I started to write and perform some of my own original Brazilian inspired material and the Bossa Bandits were born.”
The Bossa Bandits have been as productive as possible during the last year. With live shows off the table, they’ve set about recording some of their gems. ‘One by One’ is the most recent release and I’m told that more are on the way as momentum builds for the forthcoming album, ‘All True Stories’. One by One neatly captures the ‘clash’ of styles; a song all about having the strength to trust your instincts, the dark(ish) lyric merges with the happy beat for an intoxicating whole.
I’ll send Dani a message later to check that he’s doing ok. He’s a strong street fighter and I have no doubt that he’ll be surviving. As Covid-19 continues to rage in Brazil, it feels like the right time to send some brotherly love.
Despite its very obvious natural beauty, I’m not much of a fan of living in England. I’ve posted before that the small-minded ‘islander’ mentality of at least 52% of the population disgusts me and I’d rather be elsewhere. In many ways, Covid-19 has been a dream for the politicians and policy makers who survive on a diet of anti-immigration rhetoric. Because now ‘we’ can close our borders to refugees, asylum seekers and people who can help to strengthen ‘our’ cultural identity by bringing new creative ideas. This is England and I’d rather be back in Spain.
The fabulous Ali Bla Bla tells me that he has found temporary respite in Kyiv, Ukraine with his wife and new born baby. He left England last summer and will be coming back in the next few months. “Life has been different here than in the UK, a lot more free.“, says Ali. “Being away has allowed me to have a fresh perspective on whats important in life, as well as time to create. We are coming back in the summer and i’m excited to start rock n rolling a bit more again, even if its with a mask on!”
I could ramble on and on about the glorious week that I spent in Kyiv back in 2017. It really is an impressive city and I’d love to get back to see more. But I won’t. It’s not really the point of this post.
The travel and perspective gained from being abroad seems to have invigorated and freshly inspired Ali. Not that he needs much new inspiration based upon the evidence from recent release, ‘Island’. Here, we find Ali rapping over a punkish backing. He tells all about his experience growing up as an immigrant in England. It’s a vital and vibrant listen; urgent, informative and politically astute.
At the song’s core, Ali is still crying about the state of affairs. This is a man who has recognised that “home aint were the heart is, so I’m trying to find the part where i care“. I get that. I’m sure all of us who struggle with the ‘island’ mentality do. It’s a point that Ali touches upon when we exchange E-mails.
“I believe we are all victims of mental oppression in many different ways, and all of us have to find ourselves through the confusion.”, he wisely says.
I hope you all had great bank holiday weekends and the week ahead holds unforeseen pleasure.
There’s something happening in the mean streets of Bury St. Edmunds. Well, that mightn’t be true but there’s definitely something in the Suffolk water. The very cool Mosiah Levi is advancing towards the summer release of his 6 track EP, ‘Headspace’, by teasing us with some fine, laid-back, nu-soul releases. Opening single, Angel, came out at the beginning of March but feels like an ideal fit for Sonic Breakfast to feature on a languid, Bank Holiday Monday.
Yep, we can all partake in the chill pill that Mosiah has produced. The video, simple and yet effective, features Mosiah and a mate at the side of a country road watching the sunset whilst drinking rooibos tea. Their chat is punctuated by the occasional passing of traffic. Drivers of the vehicles must have had a bit of a ‘WTF’ moment if they’d looked to the grass verge where the impromptu picnic was set in stall. Mosiah and his mate seem oblivious though, deep in conversation.
Maybe they’re taking about good and bad, angels and devils, right and wrong. That’s certainly the overarching theme of ‘Angel’. Mosiah’s deep, soulful voice is apparently racked with guilt in this ballad for getting a relationship all wrong, the error illuminated and amplified by the pure clarity of a gospel choir repeating selected segments of his words. The emotional turmoil boils just under the surface until the concluding guitar solo (from Mosiah’s Dad no less) lets it all out.
As well as building up to the release of ‘Headspace’, Mosiah’s been putting out some covers onto his YouTube channel. The most recent one, a cover of Abba’s ‘Take A Chance On Me’, removes the pop bounce from the original. This is not a copycat version of the original and helps to give us all a different take on a fine song. It’s exactly what cover versions should be about.
“If you have any cover suggestions I’ll see if I can get him to do it (he’s on a country streak atm lol),”, says Mosiah’s PR person by E-mail. I’ll kick of those suggestions with ‘Your Cheatin’ Heart’ by Hank Williams. That’d be a dark and dirty winner waiting to happen.
Compelled as I am to write about the up and coming and new, I’m conscious that sometimes those who’ve been around the block a few times might get less of a look-in. And this is a shame when there are bands such as Osibisa who’ve been in existence, on and off, for more than fifty years. Yes, their membership has morphed and their success has gone through peaks and troughs but, with a new album, New Dawn, out and creating waves in the last week, it feels like an opportune time to publish a piece about the iconic Ghanaian Afro/rock band.
You might think you don’t know of Osibisa but I’d hazard a guess that you’ll be aware of their hits. Sunshine Day, a top twenty hit in the UK from the 1970’s, still glistens with sparkling warmth. I defy anybody not to break out in a broad smile whilst wiggling their toes if they hear a blast of this summer soundtrack coming through their stereo. It’s music that gives you a cuddle and we all need that right now, right?
The new material is crafted from the same block. The founding father of Osibisa, Teddy Osei, now steers the ship as a hands-on director but his health doesn’t allow him to perform live with the band. Younger guns, still with many years of Osibisa experience under their belts, have pulled the new album together. Written predominantly by Robert Bailey (an original member of Osibisa) and Gregg Kofi Brown (who has 4 decades of involvement), this isn’t a set of upstarts upsetting the apple cart. The vintage shines through on ‘New Dawn’ and the criss-cross rhythms still explode with happiness.
The lead single from ‘New Dawn’, ‘Douala’, is a celebration of life, a jab of joy in these tough times. It’s a tribute to Manu Dibango, the legendary musician from Cameroon, who passed away after a battle with Covid last year. (I feel another blog post coming on). But it’s also inspired by ex Osibisa bassist, Jean Dikoto Mandengue. Douala was Jean’s home town. “His vibrant humour and personality resonated strongly“, say the band.
I’m told that live shows and big news is on the way. “Lawyers have given me a gagging order for now“, say the PR company when I enquire. I’ll go out of my way to see Osibisa in a festival field this summer. My dancing will be off-the-scale and my smile broad and beaming. You don’t realise how much something is missed until it’s gone (temporarily).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.