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.
There are some days when I review the material of an act that I’m keen to feature on Sonic Breakfast and I’m struck by the sparseness; I’m stuck by their minimalism. These are acts that use one word answers in their press releases when truly more will do. They have no stories with which to support their music and convey a nonchalant disinterest about anything they have created. Perhaps the downplay is a deliberate ploy but it doesn’t half make it a challenge to write a blogpost about them.
Kritters are not one of those acts.
In fact, in the space of a couple of months, Kirini and Rob, the ‘blisteringly fast’ duo who form Kritters have produced so much that the challenge is knowing where to edit. This is a blog post that could run and run and they’ve only just begun. Imagine you’re in your favourite restaurant and the food is as exquisite as ever but you’re getting no break between the courses. With three fab electro pop singles released since February, all with elaborate videos to accompany, this is truly an act with a mission.
“There’s a method to the madness.“, say Kritters when we chat by E-mail about the frantic nature. “It’s also driven by the knowledge that we have so many songs on deck: Kirini has essentially written the next four albums (and still going!) so we do what we can to stay on top of it.”
You suspect that Kirini and Rob are the sort of people who have hundreds of ideas before breakfast, who are just used to working at pace. I ask them, because I’m genuinely interested how they fit it all in. “In terms of spare time: because we have quite fluid day jobs (we are both private tutors, working mainly online these days) we use every spare second for art.“, they tell me. “And for us art is a very wide net: in addition to making music, Kirini is a visual artist, primarily working in paint but also ceramics and digital collage, and now, too, videos in service of Kritters. This past year she’s also been writing a novel, which will probably take another year to finish. As for Rob, in 2020 he released an album with his last band Stornoway (he was their drummer for 11 years) and so this past year has been all about developing as a producer, something with which he had no experience other than watching the pros in recording studios.”
I initially approach the duo, currently based in New York, after hearing the second single taken from their forthcoming EP, It’s A Trap. Maybe you’re right is a grower, a banger and an ode about wanting to escape from self-imposed isolation. It’s easy to see how such a song resonated with me during this lockdown. I ask the pair how the last year has been and repeat their answer in full because it has such power.
“We live in the South Bronx – the Bronx is a borough of NYC which sits just above Manhattan, separated from it by the Bronx river. The South Bronx is a great area, with the energy of city life but at a slightly slower pace to Manhattan; really everyone should be familiar with it because it’s the birthplace of hip hop. It’s also poor and chronically underserved by city and state government, so our neighborhood was particularly hard hit during Covid: at one point this past year we hosted a nurse who had come all the way from Arizona to help out in the local hospital. It’s tough to really put a finger on what, exactly, we will take away from this pandemic year. It’s been desperately sad and completely strange: Trump, needless death, people swept into poverty. But also remarkably positive: the BLM protests, neighbors looking out for each other, and Biden’s election which also saw the election of Ritchie Torres, who is young and progressive, as our district’s representative in Congress. And for us personally the global pause coincided with Kirini beginning to write music, which she’d always planned on doing, and for once there was little else interfering. So, yes: the highs were high and the lows were underground, but we have hope.”
Since Maybe you’re right, I’ve listened to (and thoroughly enjoyed watching) further releases from Kritters. It’s a Test has a stunning video bringing eight canonical artworks to life, reimagining the women subjects as empowered and not empty vessels for the egos of male artists. The song itself is about trimming our personalities, holding our breath and curtailing our own lives – imposing our own limits to avoid scaring people away. Send me away is a dense and frenzied foray exploring the relationship between anger and insanity; both are blooming fine exponents of the creative and intellectual force that’s fizzing at full flow right now.
Few would predict against the brightest of future for the irrepressible and effervescent Kritters. Take your seat for a wild ride.
Yesterday was a pretty perfect day. Spring was definitely in the air. We went for a weekend walk around Holme Fen, the lowest point in the UK, and were able to breathe in the good, clean air. The peaty mud beneath gave us a bouncy carpet to walk on. At one point, we happened upon a bird hide on the edge of a large lake and paused for a few minutes simply to watch the geese, the ducks and all manner of ornithological dream perform their ballet in front of us. Some swooped down from their flight to make a splash in the water whilst others chirped from the comfort of their small island. Life is good.
It has to be worth reminding ourselves of that from time to time. On those low days when nothing seems to be going our way it’s helpful to take a step back and a few deep breaths. It’s not about those things that we don’t have or can’t do. When compared to 90% of the people on this planet our lot is likely better. Our irritations are mostly minor; our basic needs fulfilled.
WAMI are an Italian duo creating splendid electronic material. Lorenzo and Federico used to be resident DJs in a club but left their booths a couple of years ago to focus on their jazzy, R&B compositions. Their recent track, ‘Life Is Good’ is an uplifting belter if ever I’ve heard one. The vocalist on this track, Julia Shuren, sent WAMI her rough idea (vocal and piano chords) which was enough to enthuse over. Much remote working followed with Julia re-recording her vocals in her apartment in New York (she studies there) and in her hometown in Canada.
“”Life is Good” was written with the intentions of lifting people up through this difficult time that the entire world has been going through.”, say WAMI in their press release. “The past year has been bombarded with bad news, and sometimes we need a reminder that it’s going to be alright. We just need to start spreading good vibrations with simple gestures and we hope this song can help lift the spirits of people that need it the most.”
From our ensuing E-mail conversation, it’s clear that WAMI are pretty driven in their pursuits. “Our biggest plan for this year is to create an Italian independent label, in which we can push and promote our artists as harder as we can.“, they say. “Such a big goal, but we’re absolutely motivated! 🙂”
They add to this. “And for our musical project WAMI, we have several tracks almost ready to be released, but we have to brainstorm a little just to understand which path choose and which track deserves more that the other. Not a simple job, but essential if we want to keep our identity and to promote to our audience the “right” song.”
We got back to the car after our walk at Holme Fen and it wouldn’t go into reverse. We had to call Green Flag to help recover us. This was a blow, an inconvenience that we could do without. And yet, it’s still worth reminding ourselves that ‘Life Is Good’.
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.
My days of computer gaming are long gone. My best friend here in Spain, James, spends a fair bit of his lockdown time existing in alternative worlds as he attempts to complete his latest adventure. Sometimes, he’ll tell me about the mission he’s on and, whilst I try not to be rude, I can feel my eyes glaze over and my brain go to mush as I find out about the most recent ‘boss’ encounter. Fortunately, James has lots of other interests and we’re now more likely to chat about those.
But I did play computer games in younger days. It’s a mark of how much things have progressed that my first console (a cheap version of an Atari) basically allowed me to play what has become a retro bat and ball classic. In later years, I progressed to a ZX Spectrum and then when Ollie, my son, was growing up, I dabbled a bit in Wii’s and early PlayStation’s in an attempt to seem like a cool Dad. I failed badly.
I do however know what a sidescrolling game is. And so when Slut Magic’s press release for ‘Trauma Queen’ popped into my mail box with talk of their love of ‘hitting “Continue” even when it’s time to sleep’, I wasn’t completely disconnected. Besides, who could avoid being enticed by the character of the Trauma Queen—”the summonable patron saint of vengeance against rapists, abusers, and cowards of all kinds” – as they get invoked to “beat the boss and move on to the next level. Forever.”
Trauma Queen is the opening track and title of Slut Magic’s album that was released towards the end of 2020. It’s worth giving the Brooklyn based band a full listen should you get the chance; their political punk credentials come to the fore in a glorious scuzzy swathe of radical, off-kilter, anger (and humour).But, definitely do make time for Trauma Queen this morning. It has a tone of dark cabaret, like something that Amanda Palmer would be involved in.
I ask Slut Magic what plans they have for 2021 and get the best of responses back in return. “Sooooooo, we’re gonna be careful with this question.”, they say. “On November 6, 2019, Patch Philly asked us what our plans were for 2020. We literally said, “We think we’re one of the four bands of the apocalypse. So maybe the apocalypse is in 2020?” With that in mind: Our plans for 2021 are to be the finale music of capitalism, and the prelude to a just, anti-racist, eco-centric social order where the constructs of gender, the existence of prisons, and the need for nuclear weapons are as passé as Smash Mouth. Also we’re gonna do some 90s covers. We have a sludgy cover of Spice Girls’ “Say You’ll Be There” coming on Valentine’s weekend, perfect for brooding with your cat, or worshipping your vibrator.”
I’ve had a sneak-preview listen to that cover version and I’m happy to confirm that it works (when perhaps it shouldn’t).
And I’ll continue to listen whilst elsewhere around the World the computer games keep on scrolling.
A month or so ago now, I received a mail from ALMA. Super-polite and humble, Alba, Mel and Lillie asked if I might consider writing about their debut single, Fall.
They attached a live video and I watched, transfixed, as the song built with a haunting pleasantness. “Try writing about this and not using the word ethereal”, I said to myself as I hunted down my Cocteau Twins Thesaurus.
Repeated listens in and the melodies and harmonies continue to wash over me, the provider of all sorts of honest chil. It’s absolutely one of those songs that allows you to wallow and to bathe in your memories from years gone by.
“Fall is a nostalgic elegy to childhood and growing up. We joke that it was inspired by a quarter-life crisis, but it has become much more of an appreciation of memory and our roots.”,say ALMA by way of explanation.
A name jumps out at me when I look at the credits and I realise that the super-talented Elliot Moss is the mixing engineer for this recording. I assume that this is the same Elliot who so encouraged me to keep writing Sonic Breakfast posts when this site was in its infancy. There’s hardly likely to be two such talents with the same name in New York? For those visitors to Sonic Breakfast unfamiliar with the story of Elliot’s generosity, it can be read about here.
Highspeeds, his debut album, still gets a frequent spin in these quarters. I confess though that, to my shame, I’ve not delved into Elliot’s later releases with such diligence. Perhaps now will be the time to do so.
But not before I listen again to Fall from ALMA and give more thought to Sonic Breakfast’s childhood; the tentative Spring steps giving way to a spirited Summer and a recent sense of maturing after migration.
I wrote this three weeks ago. I guess it should be published…
2020 has been a fuzzy as fuck year. I hate not seeing friends, being contracted into ever decreasing circles, getting my hugs from distant zoom calls and my cuddles from texts.
I’ve still been writing. But my notes have been private. I’ve not entirely missed gigs but I’ve actively avoided the internet versions. I can’t help feeling short-changed.
Last night I went out into Alicante. I’m lucky to be in Spain. The Dutch and the Germans marauded carefree, no quarantine on these youths. Single-handedly, they kept alive the clubs of the old town whilst we nodded and predicted second spikes in Amsterdam and Berlin before the Summer is done.
It was nice to see people dance and smile though. We observed and kept our distance.
Mate, Seany has been listening to music in 2020 – probably not enough but I’ve been digging flamboyant soul and deadpan pop.
And there are some albums that keep giving much. Even though they’re not soul or pop.
Dylan Seeger is an under the radar genius. Prescient, perfect and largely unnoticed. I don’t know why he bothers. It’s certainly not for the attention his releases attract.
Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that his 2015 album, Claye, was an absolute favourite in these parts. He’s only gone and done it again with Metropolitan Hospital Center, his latest, released to a silent fanfare earlier this year.
How was Dylan to know that this opus, his work for the last four years, would be released on the eve of a pandemic, the worst the globe has faced for at least a 100 years?
It’s themes are scarily 2020 – hospital, loss, grief, death and a nod to the staff and people met on the way. It’s a record for me that says how much isolation can play with your dreams and your mental health.
It’s not a happy listen – but it’s perversely uplifting. And brilliant. Put it on one evening when bed beckons but you want some maudlin meditation.
I receive an E-mail from Erin Pellnat. It catches my eye one morning when I’m on the train heading into Birmingham.
“Hello Sean“, says Erin. “I write to introduce you to “Neighborhood Boys,” a song about falling in love with a guy on a bus — but he gets off at his stop and leaves me with the neighborhood boys on the bus.”
There’s a beautiful simplicity about Erin’s approach. I’m not averse to deep, philosophical songs about the meaning of life but sometimes such tunes can feel complicated, aloof and emotion-less. Sometimes, you want a simple premise that’ll tug at your heartstrings a bit; you want a three minute segment from your favourite tearjerker of a film; you want glorious romance albeit of an unrequited kind.
I take a listen to Erin’s track. There’s something about her voice that gets me. There’s no over-the-top warbles or ridiculous squeezing of pitch. It’s all very considered and mannered. Yet it’s in that very understated vocal that the emotion (of which there’s plenty) comes through. In many ways, for me at least, it invokes a similar sort of feel to that I get when I listen to the late 1960’s work of Bobbie Gentry or Dusty Springfield. And that’s high praise.
I notice when I check back through my E-mails that Erin had sent me one previously to highlight the release of her earlier EP, Dream In Color. Rudely, I’d not even replied to that. I’m glad that Erin didn’t get the hump with me for that and kept sending me mails. It pays to be persistent.
I wonder if ultimately persistence will pay off for Erin with the guy on the bus? I guess we’ll have to watch this space!
Sunday morning and I need to get Groningen out of my system. I notice that Miss Eaves released a new video whilst I was away and take a look. I’m glad I did.
Interest around Miss Eaves grew whilst I wasn’t blogging much last year but I made sure I watched the string of entertaining, message-laden videos she released. Thunder Thighs, a glorious early single from her album, Feminasty, went viral. It’s a wonderful celebration of the beauty that can and should be found in bodies of all shapes and sizes.
Miss Eaves is the feminist sound storm of Brooklyn based multimedia artist Shanthony Exum. Her fierce femcee electro-pop-rap-dance-explosions are pretty stunning and Sonic Breakfast readers could do well to check out that 2017 album.
‘Paper Mache (Single AF)’ is her new track from an as-yet unreleased EP and it’s all about the joys of being single. It’s a bolshy, strident song about healthy self-esteem, about the happiness that can be gained from staying in on a Friday night with only your arts and crafts for company. It’s a middle finger to establishment thinking that suggests happiness is best served when in a couple. There’s nothing wrong in that but neither should people feel like pariahs for doing it their own way.
And Miss Eaves is making a career out of doing it exactly her own way.
“I’m recreating your presence, by wearing socks to bed.”
You kind of know that you’re onto a winner when a song knocks you sideways with an opening line full of mournful poetry such as that.
Even more so when that song, Hard To Tell, is sung in the teary, polite and brutally honest manner that Courtney Farren applies to her work. There’s a heartbreaking simple beauty about this song; you, as a caring voyeur are given a tender insight into the distraught distraction of poor Courtney.
(Click on page 2 to hear the song and to see what Courtney says about it)