Lael Neale – Every Star Shivers In The Dark

Sonic Breakfast has just received another note from Pete to Joanne to follow up on previously published letters here, here and here. I hope neither think I’m breaking their confidences by publishing the new one in full here… 

 

Hey Joanne,

It’s years since we last spoke and I have no idea if you’re still at this E-mail address? I’ll try you anyway as I’ve just heard a song that I have to share with you. 

Do you remember our holiday to Los Angeles? How could I forget? It was the first time that you told me that you loved me. We went for an early morning walk that turned out so well – from the Dodgers stadium into Downtown – along Alameda and up in the hills. And wherever we went, we were struck by the fact that people spoke, waved and acknowledged our existence. What a gorgeous day.

I yearn for such a beautiful walk now. This virus shows no sign of going away though. I’m holed up here in Manchester and the prospects don’t look good. I’d love to be in a festival field again soon, smiling at random strangers as we dance to wild beats in elevated states. Joanne, you were great company at those festivals. Your life has changed now I guess?

I digress. This tune I want to tell you about. It’s truly hypnotic, simple yet powerful. Lael Neale (no, I’ve not heard of her before either) seems to have gone on a similar walk as us through those LA landscapes. She charts her progress with beautiful little observations; slight vignettes into the lives of many in the bustling city.

There’s no chorus Joanne but I remember you used to love that about Squeeze’s Up The Junction so I don’t think you’ll be disappointed that this song doesn’t take a traditional form. There’s no guitar either; just a church organ, a drum machine and Lael’s crystalline voice. I think the sparse approach works. What about you? 

I’ll bother you no more Joanne. I’m sorry for writing out of the blue but my memories of Los Angeles are bound in this and I had to share. 

I hope you’re well,

Pete 

Ela Minus – dominique

For many of us, 2020 has been the year when ‘working from home’ has really come to the fore. In the past, we might have dabbled with the odd day here and there from the kitchen table but try working a whole week from home and attention would likely be drawn to your office visibility. 

Now the office is the place many of us go if we can to get away from our home surrounds. If we are able to temporarily escape from the dining room table, it’s likely that a trip to the office will mean rotas, excessive cleaning protocols and plants in need of water. Colleagues are unlikely to be there. It’s not the place it was.

And there are undeniable benefits about working from home. Personally, it’s given me the opportunity to hunker down at the Spanish villa whilst doing my London-based day job. I’ve worn shorts to work most days, started earlier because my travel time is nil, managed my own time and had a siesta when I’ve wanted. The flexibility has been liberating.

But, let’s not kid ourselves that damage isn’t being done as well. The boundary between work and home, already eroded by year’s of technological advance, is now clinging on by a thread. Our nights become daytime and vice versa as routine gives way to the reluctant acceptance that you do have time before sunrise to write that paper that’s needed for later.

I’m drawn to the new single, dominique, from Colombian musician, Ela Minus, because it documents a time last year when, for her, night and day blurred. “today I woke up ‪at 7PM‬ // my brain feels like it’s going to break“, sings Ela in the opening line of the track. Over spritely synth and uplifting electronica, Ela shows how she’s wedded to her creative craft. Like many artists before her, writing and recording works better in the witching hour.

It’s a song of solitude; a deceptive banger that’s ready-made for our hours of quarantine. I love the dark humour within; the hazy memories of a time-more-normal that Ela draws upon to convince that her sanity remains in tact; the gradual realisation that messing with your body-clock can be a very small act of rebellion. Somewhat appropriately, Ela’s new album is called ‘acts of rebellion’ and it’s out tomorrow.

It’s 5AM on Thursday morning. I wake, feel unable to sleep and begin to write a blogpost. 

 

Matthew Frederick – Fragments

I’ve been exchanging occasional E-mails with Matthew Frederick for over a year now. In that time, Matthew’s told me about each of the singles he’s released from his wonderful indie-folk album, Fragments. I’ve listened, always enjoyed but never written a blog post to show my appreciation. I guess I owe him one. 

The frontman of much lauded Welsh band, Climbing Trees, this solo project is a reminder that there are still great songwriters about in 2020 – and that they don’t always get the credit they deserve. 

Back in August 2019, Matthew took the time and effort to wish me well after I was mugged in London. I listened to his lovely track, Hay-On-Wye, around that time and was smitten. Evocative and laden with hazy memories , it recalls a happy day of drinking cider and messing about on the river – a fragment that wouldn’t be out of place on a best of the Lilac Time record. “It’s definitely my cup of tea”, I tell Matthew before he ‘exclusively’ reveals back that he doesn’t care much for tea or other hot drinks. 

 

This Spring , as we dealt with the ongoing impact of life locking down, Matthew sent me news of ‘Laura Jones’, his new single. Infused With classic piano-led, power-pop sentiment and innocent charm, this tune wonders what happened to the girl-most-likely-to in the eyes of the teenage Matthew. “Whatever did happen to Laura Jones?”, I asked by correspondence. I so hope she’s heard the song now but back then Matthew could shed no light on her fate. 

 

Tonight on the terrace, and on the back of a new mail from Matthew promoting his fifth single from Fragments, Leave The Light On, I blast the album out. There are chirpy, up-tempo numbers but mostly this work of porch-music beauty glistens with an honest melancholy. Matthew plays every instrument on the record. I think that needs to be known.

As the Welsh circuit-breaker begins, I wish Matthew well and urge regular readers of Sonic Breakfast to get a slither of hope from the gems on Fragments. 

 

 

The BOBS – Bargain Booze

“When booze was new its highs were true

But now the weekend is all you do 

And all the highs just lie to you”

It’s another Saturday night out in Alicante. As the alcohol flows our guard drops and we both take risks that sobriety would have warned against. 

We temporarily forget that there’s a global pandemic going on as we freely chat with cynical men from the North. They don’t believe they’re in danger and neither should we. 

Beers and shots are downed as we sympathise with the lad from Denmark who’s just had his laptop stolen from beside him. I buy a bongo, a cheap drum with garish decoration from a man selling all sorts of tat to impressionable tourists. 

Much drink is imbibed. It’s a night of high jinx, insane spirit and bargain booze. The bars are instructed to close at 1AM but by then we’ve had our fill. And we know about it in the morning when our heads throb.

I dare say that Bargain Booze, the cheap liquor store back in the UK, has been doing quite well  over the last months. Certainly, the tales in the media of the chain’s financial vulnerability seem to have abated since it was taken over a couple of years back. A model of business where location is everything, you’ll find these stores on the edge and in the heart of mass conurbations. With pub hours reduced, the Bargain Booze shops now become the social hubs for many.

The BOBS (Best of British Suicide) from Brighton have written an off-kilter ode to Bargain Booze. I’m not sure if this is directly about the store or more about the culture that we live in that both celebrates and demonises drinking depending upon your social class. 

Whatever, it’s a playful piece calling upon the frantic staccato of the Cardiacs before developing into a sort of punky Britpop four-pints-in chorus. Here we have a song that in the space of three minutes captures the highs and lows of drinking alcohol – joyful, spiky, wayward and carefree in a couple of shots. 

Even if the music is not entirely your thing (what are you, a teetotaller?), the video will surely make you smile with its stop-motion antics. Who knew that bottle openers and corkscrews had so much rhythm? 

Bargain Booze is a tune to lock-in to – and with this release, The BOBS declare themselves as ones to watch. 

 

Kären McCormick – Retro

Friday must be the day of the week when most new music is released. I honestly have no idea when is the best time to release music to give it the best chance of hitting the heights of the charts but my own mailbox always booms with press release a-plenty when the weekend’s cusp comes. 

Perhaps finally accepting old age with grace I now like nothing more on a Friday evening than sitting down with a glass of wine (or water in sober months – the alcohol is not important) to listen to those PR promoted tracks. 

I indulge in light banter with friends who say that all music released in this century is dull, uninspired and not as good as it was when we were young. I sympathise to some degree with their assertions but feel certain that they’re wrong. 

Because every Friday (and every day in total truth) my mailbox bulges with beautiful new jewels. 

Music that makes me grin, music that sparks memories, music that connects or simply music you can dance along with whilst singing the catchy chorus out loud. 

This new track (and video) from  Kären McCormick ticks all of the boxes above. Yes, Retro is cheesy and probably designed to be a massive hit on the Nashville radio airwaves. It doesn’t push any musical boundaries and some of my friends (see above) would argue that they’ve heard it all before. 

But Kären brings a positivity and breeziness to the fore in Retro. Like many good, well mannered, clean living  Country girls who have gone before she urges her new beau to take it slow, to court her and write her love letters in an attempt to date like in the pre-app old days.

The video also features a landline and we already know how partial I am to those. (Here)

It’s delivery is sweet and spritely – you suspect that Kären has got more in her tank if she really wants to let rip – but I can’t help dancing and singing along to the wide-eyed innocence within and I’m sure that many readers of Sonic Breakfast will be no different. 

Here’s to a weekend full to the brim with new music. 

Marie Naffah – California

I’m thinking about heading home. It’s not that I particularly want to leave this oasis in the South East of Spain to head back to the South East of England but I know I’ll have to one day soon. When I left from Stansted in July I had no idea that I’d still be here now. I’m stretching my Summer wardrobe out to the extremes pretending it’s still warm enough to wear T-shirts and shorts. And it is, just about, even though the nights are on the turn. 

I’ll miss it when I go. I was out here two years ago at exactly this time of year and though I built up a wild bank of memories, I was ready to return to London and a day job when the time came. But now, because of this odd year that we’re all experiencing, London pulls me less – and I can do the day job from here. I like my own company and I’m no longer a novice at dealing with the solitude. 

I’m drawn to the new single, California, from Marie Naffah. It’s competent stuff, soulfully delivered. There are happy memories within as Marie recalls a recent road trip and the smiles it still evokes. The song, a gentle jazzy-pop meander, is a vehicle for Marie’s fine voice as we drive along the coast in search of hidden coves and new dreams.

Marie sums it up better than I can when she says that, “Quite simply, ‘California’ is a love letter to a place. It’s meant to capture the infatuation of being somewhere that is not your home. Where the mundane becomes marvellous and every detail is a souvenir.I wrote it after coming back to London – the verses are just lines lifted from my diary pages. It all happened – the smell of the dock, the drives to nowhere, the early sun rises, the coffee from big cups ’.

I have no doubt that I’ll write similar love letters to Alicante when the time comes to leave. But, for now, I’ll try to live in the moment more, to soak up the sun as it touches the terrace and realise just how lucky I am to be living here right now. 

Cloudy Clouds – I Wrote You A Love Song

The press release waxes lyrical about Cloudy Clouds comparing him to Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and others of that ilk. But I’ve learnt to pay scant regard for the excessive hyperbole that surrounds new releases and prefer now to just give them a listen. 

In this case I’m glad that I did.

Cloudy Clouds is Claudio Elliston, a young man from Crouch End chiselling away at a very specific crevice of the hip-hop mountain. I hope Claudio doesn’t mind when I compliment by saying that this is a hip-hop for bedroom-based geeks. It’s Jilted John for the misfits of 2020. Eschewing the grandiose, the guns and the fast cars for something altogether more civilised, Cloudy Clouds moralises with modern parables about love and life. 

Take his new single, I Wrote You A Love Song, released alongside his new album, Imprisoned In A Daydream, this week. The humour in the words draws you in before the pathos takes over. “It’s all made up”, confesses Claudio in the last verse, not missing the opportunity to make a point about how we might all be better off if we learn to be honest about our feelings. 

 

It’s when telling a story that Cloudy Clouds really breaks through the Cirrus. The lead single from the album, Your Future Daughter, is absolutely worth five and a half minutes of anybody’s time. A sensible plea for the legalisation of Class A’s is accompanied by a wholly engaging mixed-media video. 

 

 

Geeky, wispy and yet unique enough to steer a clear trail through the humdrum, Cloudy Clouds is a worthy investment for anybody’s precious time. He doesn’t seem as messed up as Eminem and that has to be a good thing. 

 

Skittish – Intro (vert)

I used to be a people person, a social animal, the sort that would turn up to the opening of an envelope. Always meeting people, always doing things, never short of a place to visit or a gig to go to, 2020 could have been impossible.

It’s been anything but. 

I check in with friends and they tell me that lockdown hasn’t been easy. They know me of old and acknowledge that if it’s been tough for them it must have been triple-hard for me. 

But I’ve been lucky in lockdown. The day job has kept me busy and I’ve felt comfortable in the isolation of it all. When compared to the many millions around the world who have very real health and finance concerns, I’ve got off lightly so far. “I cannot grumble“, I tell those friends.

Two years ago, when I lived for long periods of time alone in this remote Spanish villa, I’d be the first to admit that I didn’t deal with the solitude especially well. I needed the bright lights of a big city to get my kicks, a frenzied time at a festival to wear me out before a week of villa-nada. 

Perhaps that year was simply good practice for this, a dress rehearsal before the pandemic.  I like being alone with my thoughts and a world of  music to listen to. Take that away and I’d be fucked. 

Skittish has a new album out today. Savannah Sessions was recorded when Jeff Noller, the driving force behind Skittish, rocked up to live in Savannah. He dragged in many local musicians to augment his ambition. 

This is Skittish’s seventh album apparently. That’s a lot of catching up I have to get through on Spotify. But catch up I will for the impressions I get from hearing the singles from Savannah Sessions is that Skittish is an act I will grow to love. Literate and observational with power-pop swirls and folk flourishes, it’s stuff that’s right up my street. 

Take album opener, Intro (vert). A pun of a title gives way to a beautiful break-up song beneath. “This was the first song I wrote when I got to Savannah. Two days after I arrived a hurricane passed by and shut down the city. I enjoy my solitude very much, but am worried about living that way too long, which is wrapped up in the chorus line ‘it’s a trial of solo vs. So long‘” – a chorus made for my villa reflection it would appear. 

 

The other single from the record, Car Crash Companion, chimes in with a singalong chorus and vital power pop riffs. It also has a video with style, humour and awkward editing. “I make all of my videos for less than a hundred dollars“, says Skittish. 

And with that you know that you’ve unearthed another lo-fi gem. 

 

 

For Those I Love – I Have A Love

I’ve headed to Alicante for the weekend. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that this is my happy place. I love the solitude that I get from the villa out in the country but need the buzz of a city from time to time. 

And Alicante gives me that even if the 2020 version is a muted and mutated version of what has gone before. I walked down the esplanade en route to my hotel yesterday and had it all to myself. The hotelier tells me that he might only have money for a couple of weeks more trading. These are desperate times. 

But last night out in the old town I sat under the stars and watched the world go by. There was still an energetic and contagious buzz; we remembered how to smile and laugh amidst the infectious giggles. 

I headed back to my hotel and listened to a piece of music that totally knocked me sideways. I’ve now watched this video a dozen times on repeat and I plan to watch it a dozen times more. 

I remember the very first time I listened to Original Pirate Material by The Streets. Mike Skinner introduced himself as a talent to behold with his gritty, humorous observations about working class life in Birmingham and I adored it. For Those I Love achieve something similar, albeit working class life in Dublin, with this track I have a love’. I can pay no greater compliment. 

For Those I Love is the life project of Dave Balfe. He wrote this piece to honour the memory of his best friend and former band mate, Paul Curran, who died suddenly a couple of years back. In one fell swoop, the beautiful, observational spoken-word poetry builds over a growing electronica swarm to establish a more than fitting tribute for a friend. The video, laced with footage from their friendship, manages to be both beautiful and sad. I defy anyone watching to not feel the lump in the throat as the song builds to its point of no return. 

 

 

Dave puts it better than I ever could when he says, “When it happened, and life froze over, the only way out was through the songs.
How else can I show my love, how else can I remember what we had and what we made, but through the art itself.”

The Phoenix Foundation – Landline

Hands up who misses the landline? Bonus points if, like an alcoholic with drink, you remember your first ever encounter with the fixed phone device, especially if it was one that you had to prompt into action with a circular swoop of the finger. 

I recall my Saturday mornings as a young child well. I must have been six or seven and I was desperate to ask a question on ‘ Multi Coloured Swap Shop’.Each week I’d spend hours, when others were watching Noel Edmonds pose questions to the latest pop sensation, sitting on the hard parquet floor in the hall laboriously dialling and re-dialling. The TV was in another room. I wouldn’t actually be watching the programme itself. I had more important business to conduct.

 

I never did get to ask my question. I never got beyond the engaged tone. My Dad, in a vain attempt to curb my obsessive behaviour, did take me to a wet field in Wycombe where Cheggers (RIP) had set up stall with his roaming swap-shop. I swapped a favourite toy for something that was broken in a box; my deal-making, business acumen laid bare for all to see from an early age. 

But I’m rambling. There is no point talking about foolish attempts to woo girls in my teenage years from the now-carpeted steps leading off from the hallway; the clock-watching waiting for 6PM to pass and the cheap rate to begin. I can barely believe that I once told a young woman who was blatantly not interested in a date that they would ‘regret that decision one day’. I’m sure she never has. There are many more landline misdemeanours that I could draw upon but I won’t.

In years to come this prose will seem archaic, distant, confusing and perhaps quaint. Maybe, some younger, more mobile readers are already wondering what the point of this weird invention, the landline, could ever have been? 

The Phoenix Foundation, a sextet from New Zealand, have just released a song called Landline. The tune itself is an upbeat slice of happy funk-bounce. Laced with a healthy dose of 80’s psychedelia yet sounding thoroughly right for 2020, it’s worth three and a half minutes of anybody’s time. According to the bands co-frontman, Samuel Scott Flynn, this “ridiculous song is about trying to keep real connections with your friends in this bollocks time in human history but in the video I’m a human telephone trying to stab a Spy Vs Spy version of Luke. Makes sense.” 

A video to make you smile, a song that draws upon feelings of nostalgia to make sense of today’s crazy world. This is right up Sonic Breakfast’s street and I’m sure it’ll be up yours as well.