Dreams Of Empire – Space Invader

It was probably quite a paranoid thought. But we used to imagine that there was a ‘Guild Of Incredibly Tall Men’. The Guild’s sole purpose was to mess up our view at gigs. There was a period back in the noughties when we couldn’t go to a concert without the guild turning up. They’d time it to perfection. With minutes to go before a band that we’d been waiting patiently to see, two or three ‘incredibly tall men’ would slightly awkwardly shuffle over to wherever it was that we were standing and plonk themselves slap bang in front. The men couldn’t hear the protest; mostly they’d just make an impenetrable huddle between themselves and act oblivious, sometimes they’d acknowledge the grumbles but say something polite like ‘Well, where the fuck else are we going to stand?’ – joyful space invaders.

More recently, the Guild seem to have disbanded but have been replaced by the Association of Narcissists at gigs. This is the society that don’t actually seem very interested at standing and watching because they can’t bear that many eyes not being on them. So, they flail their hair about so that you can eat a gobful of it. They’ve either doused themselves with so much perfume or forgotten to use deodorant for the past two weeks but the effect is the same – you are left gagging for air. And just when you think you’ve got away from their company, they insist on getting their phone out to badly film themselves at the show utterly blocking your view. I do miss gigs.

The phenomenon of the ‘Space Invader’ isn’t just something that’s prevalent at gigs though. Over the last year, we’ve all been told that keeping our distance from others is a good thing to maintain. So why, when you go to any supermarket in any town is there still a warm welcome from the Society Of Pushers? This is the crowd that take great delight in nonchalantly reaching over your frame to pick up a packet of ham when if they’d just wait for two seconds you’d be long gone from the cold meat aisle. 

 

Dreams of Empire are probably similarly bitter as I am about the ‘Space Invader’. The Brighton dreampop duo (who become a four piece live) named the opening track of their second album, Encapsulation, after it. It’s a track that I’m very much drawn to and not just because I can relate. “A pure indie guitar energy rush for anyone with a fringe (or who used to own one)“, says the accompanying press release – and you can’t argue with that. 

There’s  a slice of shoegaze and a trim of twee that wrap themselves around the solid indie base on offer in this ‘Space Invader’ cake. Andrew Craig, guitarist and main songwriter in the band, tells me how they plan to follow it up. “The new stuff is going to sound similar to Space Invader which has been really well received.”, he says “Oh and I’ve even written some slightly more positive lyrics for a change – hopefully we’ll have reasons to be cheerful before too long.

I know I’m odd but I’m cheered enough by the sentiment behind Space Inader. It’s good to know that the Guilds, Associations and Societies don’t solely target me. 

Hanssøn – No Drama Llama

Back last year when the initial lockdowns hit, we took to weekend walking. Too busy during the working week to muster much of a stroll, we looked forward to the weekend when we’d get out to explore local footpaths and tracks. Places previously taken for granted came alive on our short hikes; we discovered small fishing lakes on our doorstep, geological wonders and an abundance of nature. Our horizons might have been shrinking but our interests were growing; there was beauty to behold in a single blade of grass.

One walk sticks in my mind. A seemingly endless meander along a towpath gave way to a clearing just over a slight hump. A white cottage in the distance shimmered in the early evening sunlight. And fenced off in the well-treed garden of the cottage which ran parallel to our path was a field of llamas – or were they alpacas? This was not what we expected to see on a Saturday stroll in Lincolnshire. It is not a common sight. 

On returning home, I spent an hour or two, with the net as my resource, trying to understand the differences between llamas and alpacas. I wanted to find out more about both animals. What makes them tick and why did I stumble upon them in that Lincolnshire field? I never did find out why they were there. I suspect we spied alpacas rather than llamas given the physiological differences between the two. Previously, I’d thought that llamas were only good for spitting and wool. I was wrong on that front. 

 

Hanssøn likes llamas. She tells me about her experience filming the video for ‘No Drama Llama’ when we exchange E-mails in advance of this post. 

Making the video was quite surreal.”, she says. “When I wrote the track, my producer was like “Dude you’ve GOTTA shoot a video with some llamas” and logistically and with the pandemic, it seemed like such a far out idea that I couldn’t even conceptualise it, but once I started digging around, a lot of things opened up – I’m based in NYC and I found a lot of the llama farms were at least 1.5 – 3 hours away. And lots of the farms were mainly for alpacas rather than llamas even though I was google searching “llama farm”. But eventually I made contact with Bev at Second Wind Llamas and when we spoke on the phone I pitched her this idea, sent through the lyrics and the song, and we agreed on it. She mentioned that the lyrics in the song “Thank you to my healers” caught her attention because she finds her Llamas to be quite affectionate and healing for certain visitors, and on the day of the shoot, shared with me stories and experiences of this.”

I love this idea that llamas have healing powers. It stands to reason really. Horses are increasingly used in equine therapy sessions so why not llamas (and alpacas)? A friend with a field is desperate to get himself an alpaca so convinced is he of their general health benefits. He could be onto something.

No Drama Llama, a synth pop gem about trying to find some peace whilst feeling alien(ated), is just one track from Hanssøn’s ‘Phases’ project. With a work ethic to envy, Hanssøn has been releasing new music every two weeks at full moon and new moon. She admits that having the focus has kept her going. “My family are all in Australia and I haven’t seen them since 2019...”, she mentions. “So having something to ground me in the USA such as music has been really a life saver, and the first thing I’ll be doing (when this is all over) is getting back to Australia to see my family.

I’m going to spend some of this Sunday morning listening to the other tracks that Hanssøn has released as part of the ‘Phases’ project. I suspect there’s much joy within. Have a Llama-great Sunday.

Simon Dinwiddy – City Of Hope

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know how much I love going to festivals. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to party in a field by the end of this year though I admit the prospects look gloomy right now. Rockaway Beach at the Butlins in Bognor was the last festival I was able to get along to before the pandemic hit. I reviewed it for e-Festivals here. January 2020 seems an age ago. 

Festivals are my ‘City Of Hope’. Some of the larger ones (I’m thinking Glastonbury and Boomtown) are the actual size of cities but even the smaller ‘towns and villages’ help me in my escape. They are my amusement arcade; the place where I can go to forget about the 9 to 5 drudgery. I can eat popcorn and candyfloss at a festival if I want to. I simply cannot wait for their return. 

Simon Dinwiddy gets my longing. His recent tune ‘City Of Hope’ is all about dreams and romance, lust and escapism. With an indie crash and a punky, Britpop splash, Simon takes us all to the seaside for a swagger through the streets. With a nod to The Libertines and to Blur, this is a fun-time tune. How crazy that the video is filmed in Bognor, the scene of my last ‘City Of Hope’.

I’m in Littlehampton, I thought it would be ironic to do it in Bognor.“, says Simon when I ask him about his choice of location. When you see the cheesy tat on offer, the irony is not lost though I wouldn’t dismiss the hope that comes out of a place that hosts a festival of Rockaway Beach’s quality. 

‘Get on a plane and fly to Spain’, sings Simon a couple of times in the song. Now, there’s an idea if we only could. It’s two weeks since I flew out of Alicante. My enforced isolation is done and I’d hop on that plane back tomorrow. That’s a true city of hope. 

The Dead Freights – Fever And The Thunder

Here I am in Prague; it’s 6AM and I’ve been out all night. I stick to the dancefloor and sway from side to side as I try to move in time with the beat. Some of my newfound ‘friends’ also dance whilst others hide in the shadows at the bar. By tomorrow, I will have forgotten their names but that doesn’t matter a jot in this moment. Eric, an American I’d met hours previously, offers me a drag on his cigarette. I shake my head as a shard of sunlight squeezes through the window and reminds me that it might be a good time to head back to my hotel.

Now, I’m in Vienna. It’s 3AM and the taxi driver has just dropped us off at this sweat-box. There are no windows here; everything is painted black. But after an evening surrounded by champagne, ice-buckets and bling, it’s exactly what we wanted. The combination of bass and beat stops us from thinking too much; we shout words to each other in slo-mo as the strobe effect plays havoc with our mashed-up heads. 

And now I’m in Bristol. It’s not yet midnight and the party is young. It’s a student house in a posh part of town. But word has got around and the clientele that’s about to over-run this space with their presence aren’t your typical student crowd. Punks with glorious mohicans take control of the CD player in the kitchen whilst a reggae crowd sit in a huddle in a downstairs bedroom. I take another swig from my can of Scrumpy Jack and keep wandering.

 

Sleazy house parties and grungey discos – It’s fair to say I’ve had my fair share. The Dead Freights, fine indie from Southampton, would doff their collective cap if the evidence on offer in ‘Fever and The Thunder’ is anything to go by. 

For this is a tune that could all be about those chaotic nights spent in pursuit of grubby pleasure. Charlie James, frontman of The Dead Weights tells more. “Fever has that concise chaos which is imperative to our sound and overall vibe as a band.“, he says. “To me, it sounds like a sleazy house party; a constant groove with moments of menace. It wears itself out then climaxes into madness.“. The accompanying video sees Charlie come a cropper at the hands of his fellow band-mates.

You can clearly see why this mix of grunge-laden disco (Fever) and traditional rock ‘n’ roll (Thunder) has been turning heads down on the South Coast. I’ve had a sneaky listen to their next single, Sufferin Safari, and it’s evident that there’s still some serious diesel in the tank. When the video for that gets released, I might well give The Dead Freights more coverage on this page. I do hope that Louis, Robert and Robby have dropped their obvious desire to murder Charlie by that point.

 

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’.