PENT UP – Reflection

A pattern is forming; not one, not two but three instrumental pieces featured on Sonic Breakfast in recent weeks. (The other two are here and here). For a blog that is so wrapped in lyrics, this is quite a development. I’m finding so much on offer in the piano-led pieces that I’m hearing. Cinematic and evocative, they’re helpful position-statements in explaining the raw emotion of the last year. They allow you to fill in the gaps, to let you mind wander, to reflect, to think and to learn. You can lose yourself in a story without words, wallow for a while and breathe it all in. 

Today’s choice is aptly called ‘Reflection’ and it’s by PENT UP, the moniker of Stephen Brook, a pianist from the South West of England. It’s already been noted by commentators more relevant than I that Stephen has the ability to tell stories without lyrics. Stephen himself notes that the video he made to accompany the piece ‘adds the visual context to the song’s narrative‘.

It’s an emotionally-charged video. Quickly we move from the bustle of a busy underground to deserted streets and empty buses. I’ve now not been to the office of my day job for over a year but when this video charts a path up an empty Regents Street and pans down a quiet Leicester Square, things really resonate. These are some of the streets that I’d walk along daily as I’d merrily go about my working day. Their emptiness is eerie, almost apocalyptic. It’s chilling when thinking about what we once took for granted.

The video moves on to feature images of people in various reflective modes; some are alone and others are in clinches with loved ones. All are taking the time to think and to ponder. We’ve lost a lot but gained equal amounts of insight into the things that really matter. 

Stephen explains his motivation behind ‘Reflection’. “I wanted to capture all of the emotions that we’ve all gone through over the past year.“, he says. “The numerous lockdowns, the sparse opportunities of freedom and how this is affecting the population mentally. I’ve also had my own realisations on the importance of family and how I have taken my own family for granted in the past.

Do find time to have a listen to ‘Reflection’ today. It can be a thinking Thursday for us all. 

Sacha Hoedemaker – Better Days

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that lyrics are very much my bag; you won’t find many acts featured in these parts who use cliché, bland platitudes or well-trodden similes to describe their current emotional state. And, it’s arguably my love of lyrics that has tended to rule out instrumental and faux-classical pieces from the mix. That all changes today. 

When I first heard Sacha Hoedemaker’s ‘Better Days’, I was floored. The words can almost write themselves as the cinematic piece swoops and builds to its final flourishes. You can’t help but feel optimistic about the future and positive about the right-now as first the piano and then a section of strings takes us on a truly melodic dance. 

More than ever, we can reflect upon our lives and think of the better days of yet to come. It’s so important to connect to each other and stay positive. I hope this piece provides with the motivation you need to turn today into a better day.

That’s what Sacha offers in the press release that accompanies ‘Better Days’. The Music Director at an Improvisational Theater in Amsterdam called Boom Chicago, Sacha is well-versed in performing multiple times a week as an improvisational musician. That’s no doubt aided his punishing release schedule in 2021 so far that’s seen him add new music to his YouTube channel every couple of weeks. It’s all good but this piece, Better Days, is the one I choose to feature.

I ask Sacha what he’ll do when the better days do come. “The first thing I’ll do is travel most likely.“, he says. “I want to take a break and see something else than my studio. Get inspired by the outside world to write more and more music.

When the inevitable glut of movies get made dramatising all of our Covid-19 experiences, this piece of music could very well feature. Opening credits, end credits or that moment when the scientist has the Eureka moment on discovering the vaccine – all might be suitable points for the opening bars of ‘Better Days’ to chime. It’s no surprise that Sacha has a background rich in film soundtrack.

For now, close your eyes and imagine the days that are better for you. Let the music take you away to a happy place and give you temporary respite from the day-to-day. 

Liesl – Driveway Bruises

I tell people who feign interest that Sonic Breakfast is all about the discovery of new music. I suppose that this is in part true. A more complete answer though would be that Sonic Breakfast highlights new music to unlock fading memories. “There are places I remember“, as Lennon and The Beatles very neatly once put it.

When I was eight years old, my family moved from Prestwood in Buckinghamshire to Dorchester in Dorset. For most eight year olds, I’m sure such a transition would hardly have registered on the anxiety scale. But, I didn’t find the change very easy at all. I hated my new school and I’m pretty sure that the teachers and other pupils weren’t that keen on my histrionics. I had a very real sense that this was a backward move for me (not that I could do anything about it aged eight). In my head, Prestwood equalled glamour and excitement whereas Dorchester was a dull sludge of a place. I can see now that my assessment of place wasn’t entirely accurate though it didn’t stop the young Sean crying himself to sleep most nights.

I do sometimes wonder if my struggle to now truly settle in one place is in any way informed by that formative experience. In an effort to not experience the desperate sadness I felt back then, I keep moving. And try not to become too connected with a place because it’ll only lead to feelings of ambiguous loss when the inevitable happens. Sonic Breakfast is simply a tool I use to moderate over the memories.

It seems that Liesl’s on the same page as I am with her evocative track ‘Driveway Bruises’. Liesl’s move was much grander than mine; a cross-continent trek as a teenager from a small South African town to the buzzing hive of activity that is Berlin. This tune, and the soon-to be released EP ‘Unfamiliar’, is largely inspired by the feelings of loss, estrangement and a search for belonging that the move provoked.

Berlin is definitely a world away from where I grew up in South Africa – which was a much smaller town with different people, culture and beliefs,”, says Liesl when I ask her about the differences. “I love the open-mindedness, independence and creative freedom I have here in Berlin, but I miss the beautiful South-African nature, the familiarity, and the feeling of being grounded somewhere. I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “ambiguous loss”, which is essentially what the song talks about. Although the physical place still exists, the idea of it being a home only exists in my memory.”

There’s a cracking video that goes hand in hand with ‘Driveway Bruises’. Liesl made it herself with old film footage found in the family archives. By her own acknowledgment this is an effort to ‘visually represent the idea of memories receding into the past.’ The cover artwork (added above), also self-produced, draws focus  on ‘something beautiful that is desiccating, decaying, causing it to become confusing and unfamiliar.’

The music and video chime and tug at my core. I can’t entirely put my finger on how something quite uncluttered can draw upon such emotion. I feel overwhelmed but also acknowledge a sense of release when listening to the simple piano and vocal effects within. See if it does the same for you? 



And then, as an added Saturday bonus, you can also listen to the second single from the EP, Fish Net, that was released just yesterday. It’s another cracker from a deep-thinking new talent. 


Alexandra Streliski – Kings Place – May 7th 2019

Curiosity might have killed the cat. But it’s what keeps me alive. Later this week I’ll be heading to Brighton for my first festival of 2019, The Great Escape. That’ll be a frenetic rush around Brighton trying hard to get a glimpse of the next big thing. I’ll be a child in a sweet shop. 

So, in advance of the anticipated headiness of the next few days, tonight I opt for classical Canadian calm. 

As it happens, Alexandra Stréliski also plays The Great Escape. And, should I want a retreat from the rush, I might well check her out again on the coast. Her set at Kings Place, the multi-use space up by St Pancras, has chill by the bucketloads. This is one show that demands that you drift into a dreamland of your own making. 

Alexandra takes to the stage – a mass of curly brown hair hiding a slightly awkward yet utterly charming manner. She sits by a Steinway grand piano and proceeds to play. Smoke machines provide haze on the proceedings; they obscure Alexandra’s eccentricities. We just about spy her swoops and flourishes. 

Some of the instrumental pieces she plays, always ripe with melody, are accompanied with graphics appearing on a black curtain behind her. Art appears to aid exploration; an old video tape of a joyful Alexandra as a child playing her first keyboard is introduced and we all ponder for a moment on our own lost innocence.

Alexandra’s happy to be in London. She was last here as a fifteen year old and learnt one of life’s lessons when she drank too much alcohol and was hideously ill. This is her minor redemption. She tells all that she’s living a very specific dream by touring her music around the world, no longer a slave to the TV and film companies for whom she used to compose.

It’s meditative in tone; the piano, when played well, can take you away to imaginary places. And in this darkened room I suspect that most of us are shutting our eyes, dreaming our dreams  and focusing on a better future. That a gig can elicit such positivity is no bad thing. 

I add another to my Brighton longlist..