Holy Now, Lazy Pilgrims and Calluna – Sebright Arms – March 13th 2019

The AirBNB is comfortable this week. I’m paying peanuts to be in Bethnal Green. The room has a desk (on which there’s a couple of cups and a box of strawberry, raspberry and cranberry infusion teabags – but no kettle) and the bed’s a dream to sleep on. I sit and write at the desk and I’m almost tempted to not head out to a gig. 

But this one comes recommended by a good friend who’s music taste I trust. I realise that the Sebright Arms (a venue I loved when I visited last – here) is no more than a twenty minute walk away and I’ve always been a sucker for a bit of Swedish jingle and jangle. Holy Now, recent additions to this year’s Indie Tracks festival line-up, are probably going to be worth making the effort for.

I’ve got some time to kill so order a burger at the Sebright bar. When it arrives, it’s nothing short of a taste-delight though I’d completely miscalculated that preparation time plus eating time would result in wolfing the food down to catch the opening act. Rather than give myself indigestion, I masticate slowly and saunter down to the Sebright basement when Calluna are in full flow.

They’ve clearly brought a fair following to the Sebright – and it’s unfortunate that some of the between-song banter fails to reach out beyond the dewy-eyed front row friends and family. For, despite hailing from Milton Keynes, Calluna should be more confident than this. In lead singer and band leader,Heather Britton, they’ve got a vocalist who has a pleasant, mellow husk to her voice. The band make a polished gentle shimmer of a sound and you can see why they’ve already got Match Of The Day (or is that MOTD2) soundtrack credits. My notes say it’s a bit like if Tanita Tikaram ever did shoegaze. My notes are probably wrong. 

 

The fan room empties for Lazy Pilgrims. They’re an altogether more challenging proposition than Calluna. A four piece, two boys in beanies flank a singer, Georgie, who’s probably well dowsed in patchouli oil. Their thing is grunge with a fair dose of prog. My notes suggest that it moves into stoner jazz at one point but given that’s barely a genre (is it?) I’ll just settle on the fact that they give us extended jams with power vocals. Chris, the guitarist, changes guitar after one particularly epic solo, probably because he’s worn the other one out. I notice that Chris is wearing no shoes but is wearing a particularly thick pair of woollen socks. Georgie is odd in that she wears a black boot on one foot and a sock on the other. Random things distract as my mind wanders. “This one is called ‘Sepia lips and the cosmic elliptical”, says Georgie. Oh my, I am done. In a festival field though, this could be right up my street. 

 

Holy Now are two boys and two girls from Gothenburg, Sweden. They write great songs but that is probably where the similarities with ABBA cease. “They’re like a band that would have been on Sarah Records back in the day”, says a decent chap I chat with before Holy Now take to the stage. Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast will know that this is a label that appeals and so I await their entrance with anticipation.

“It’s been a long day. We had to be up at 4.30 to catch our flight”, says Julia, singer with Holy Now. Nobody can tell that this is a tired band though. Their breezy tunes are delivered with attention-grabbing energy. It’s all about twee melody, discord and harmony. Julia has a high-pitched wail of a vocal which makes it sound less pleasant than it actually is; the rest of the band moderate with bursts of backing vocals which take the songs to new and interesting places.

Best of all, there’s a sense that Holy Now want to have shambolic fun. They admit that they’re testing a sharper approach to their chat between songs. “How does you say Sebright?“, ponders Ylva, the drummer. “What does it mean?“, she adds before telling all about the lovely merch on offer. We’re encouraged to count to four in Swedish enabling the count-in to an upbeat jaunt of a number. “Grab someone you love for this ballad”‘ we’re told – potentially strange advice for a song with a chorus containing the lyric ‘Break It Off’.  “That’s a really sad song”, admits Julia as it draws to a close. 

It’s been another night when making the effort to get out and about has richly rewarded. I’m lucky to be living this nomadic lifestyle. 

 

 

Blank – Only Built For Northern Lights

Dear sir,
Hazel Ruxton, is right in her answer but, in Swedish at least, these letters are distinct characters in their own right, which appear at the end of the alphabet, so it wouldn’t be quite right to describe these dots (or the ring) as an accent. The A with two dots (Ä) is pronounced like the english word “air”, whereas the A with the ring (Å) is pronounced “oar”, there is also an O with two dots (Ő) which is pronounced “eugh” – or something rather similar, there isn’t really an equivalent sound in English. Out of interest your readers might like to know that the Ő character appears as Ø in Norwegian but this is still the same letter.
Peter Clark, Cambridge, England

The two little dots (the acid tabs of punctuation) might be called Umlauts; diacritics that I’m completely ignorant about. From what I can tell, this umlaut alters the pronunciation. It gives more influence and more prominence to the vowel sound. I wonder if re-introducing the umlaut to written English might resolve those debates between the North and South of our country. (‘You say bath, I say bath’, ‘you say scone, I say scone’).

I don’t know how to show the umlaut from this I-pad keyboard. This is unfortunate given that I’ve recently been listening to the new album by ‘Blank’ (they have an Umlaut above the a in their name). I want to review “Only Built For Northern Lights” because it’s extremely good but don’t want to misinform readers about the name of the band. The canvas is not blank.

Blank are a Swedish/Sapmi (Lapland) trio. This new release builds from a core of electronica and pop to embrace all sorts of other influences. Old school hip-hop mixes with laid back trip hop; rap is mashed up with traditional Sapmi folk to create a diverse yet rooted listening experience.

It’s an album in which Blank are on the brink; these are songs that are about facing up to life as you approach your 30’s; these are songs about coming to terms with relationships that are failing; “Life’s good, but I’m trying to make it better”, raps Simon Trabelsi on ‘This is Blnnk’, one of the track titles that doesn’t translate across into English. “I guess it’s time to move on”, he stresses in the closing track of the record, ‘P.O.V.’.

It’s those positive statements of intent (and the upbeat nature of the electronic pop on offer) that pull this back from being a melancholic break-up record. But, the relationship that has come to an end is never far from the surface. In lead single, ‘Tears Run Dry’, we hear the breathy yet lush Lina moan that, “I guess it’s over between me and you” before pulling herself together in the chorus and stressing that now she’s going to run until the tears run dry. “In time the pain will fade”, she pines on ‘In disgrace’.

Many are predicting that this is a record that’s going to thrust Blank into the mainstream. It’s definitely a record in which the band are preparing themselves for change. There’s potential hit singles within and I’m prepared to wager that we might all know how to access the umlaut on our keyboards by the time we come to pull together our best of lists at the end of the year.

 

 

 

The Corner Laughers – Midsommar

Is it pouring with rain where you are? I’ve yet to draw back my curtains but I’m sensing grey. I can hear cars swooshing through puddles as early risers weave their way to work. It’s a thoroughly depressing sound and even the birds that are singing seem muted today. 

Thank goodness therefore for happy, sunny songs such as this one from Californian twee pop band, The Corner Laughers. Midsommar is a bright breeze of a piece and is released in advance of The Corner Laughers fourth album. If you like your music joyful then I’d recommend checking out more of the offerings from Karla Kane and gang. I have been over these last few depressingly, drizzly days. The album from a couple of years ago, Poppy Seeds, would seem like a pretty fine place to start. 

Vaguely aware of midsummer through the summer solstice, I had little idea that the ‘Midsommar’ celebrations in Sweden are such festive affairs. A national Bank Holiday is called on the weekend closest to June 24th. Swedes flock to the countryside where they set up camp for the night, wear crowns made of flowers, build a midsommarstang (like a community maypole), dance, sing, eat and drink potent drops of the alcoholic drink, Akvavit, around a Bonfire as night sets in. It does all sound like a rather glorious time.

And it’s those glorious moments of time that I think The Corner Laughers are trying to capture in Midsommar. From the initial strums of ukulele through to a pompous but not out of place guitar solo, this is a tune about celebrating good times. The impossibly happy chorus encourages us to frame those memories for they might be few and far between. 

I defy you not to have a glorious time. 

 

 

Eurovision – The Final Countdown

Flashback – I am sat in a school assembly. The Deputy Head spins a record and encourages us all to sing along to the words. The words are projected on an overhead projector. We all know the tune. It’s mass karaoke before karaoke was widely known about. ‘A little loving, a little giving, a little peace‘, we all sing as we attempt to emulate Nicole from Germany and her winning Eurovision entry. 

The borders and the countries have changed in the 58 years that Eurovision has been running – but the message from Nicole shouts out stronger than ever. It’s just such a shame that, by and large, the lyrical content for songs in this years Eurovision is so dire (Iceland’s entry is at least naively different). 

I’m reminded of that game you sometimes see on fridges at parties and wonder if there is an Eurovision equivalent. A box of metallic phrases and words that can be rearranged into any order and stuck to your fridge in an effort to help struggling songwriters come up with their lyrics for their songs. In 2014’s bag of words,we have lots of ‘hearts’, ‘tons of ‘time’, a few ‘storms’ and a supply of ‘worlds’ and ‘universes’. Painting by numbers.

 The Easter weekend is nearly over. It’s almost time to head back to work at which point ‘normal’ service will resume for this blog. I’ll cover the local, the national and international that’s caught my ear. I hope that this Eurovision diversion hasn’t been too painful. Just another ten to go.

 

28. Netherlands – The Common Linnets – Calm After The Storm

The Dutch go all Country on us and give us a song that wouldn’t sound out of place if Bob Harris played it. I don’t know how many ‘highways’ there are in Holland but this is driving along one of them complete with slide guitar. I like the fact it sounds unique amongst the Europop but the tank runs out of petrol before we get to Copenhagen and we need to hitch a lift. By which i mean, it’s pretty boring.

 

29. Norway – Carl Espen – Silent Storm

See what I mean about the use of the word ‘storm’? This is a rock/pop ballad and it’s duller than Dutch dishwater. Carl tells us that he has a ‘silent storm inside‘ him. I reminded of the phrase ‘silent, but deadly’ and can only suggest that he changes his diet before arriving in Denmark if he wants to impress Ruth Lorenzo.

 

30. Poland – Donatan & Cleo – My Slowianie

Starting like something out of  ‘Hairspray’ and then heading into M.I.A. territory, these Polish girls at least sound excited about representing their country. It all goes a bit tap dance on a merry go round in a fairground in the strange middle section before the girls come back and translate what they were saying in the first verse. Interesting so doubt it’ll win.

 

31. Portugal – Suzy – Quero Ser Tua

Portugal take us back to the 80’s and give us something akin to ‘Tarzan Boy’ quality, happy pop. This is the sort of tune that’ll get played this summer in beach resorts – the sort of beach resort that I never want to go to.

 

32. Romania – Paula Seling and OVI – Miracle

I played this tune to my 17 year old son, Ollie. He thinks it sounds like a winner, not because he likes it but because it’s the sort of song that’ll pick up votes. Mark his words. “I got a feeling and I want to believe it’s magical“, sings either Paula Seling or OVI. I can assure you that it’s not and in my opinion, it’ll take a miracle for you to win. 

 

33. Russia – Tolmachevy Sisters – Shine

The Tolmachevy Sisters from Russia are “telling all the world to show some love”. I guess this is only if it’s of the heterosexual variety eh Putin? The most interesting thing about this will be to see which countries vote for it and which are about to be invaded. I’m sure that the Tolmachevy sisters are lovely as well. 

 

34. Sweden – Sanna Nielsen – Undo

Sanna’s songwriters have clearly been playing the fridge game as we get both ‘silent’ and ‘storm’ in the first line of the song. Sanna then proceeds to ‘undo’ all of Abba’s great work from forty years ago with a dull piano ballad. Sweden could offer so much more to this. 

 

35. Slovenia – Tinkara – Round And Round

Bonus points for the use of assorted whistles and pipes over the standard Euro dance track. “I’m going to show you how to breathe“, offers Tinkara generously. “Thanks Tinkara – and once you’re done with that, I’ll show you how to sing an interesting song?” I reply.

 

36. San Marino – Valentina Monetta – Maybe (Forse)

Way back when I started this preview,I noted that Austria’s entry sounded like a song that should accompany Sean Connery era James Bond films. This is from that ilk but should accompany George Lazenby era James Bond films. ‘Maybe’ it’ll do well. ‘Probably’ it won’t.

 

37. Ukraine – Mariya Yaremchuk – Tick Tock

Wahey – we’re there. I can’t begin to tell you how happy this makes me feel. In this one, Mariya entertains us by seeing how many words she can rhyme with ‘Tock’. I’ve got a couple more for Mariya. Crock of cock. Seriously though, I hope that this is a good year for the Ukraine. A little peace.

 

It’s harder to pick two songs today. Let’s go home along the Dutch Country roads and then perk ourselves up with Donatan and Cleo from Poland. This video of the tune gives a different edit to the song they’ll be performing on the night. 

 

 

Alice Boman – What?

Today, I’ve been thinking about Sweden (a bit). About how I’m often charmed, touched, moved and grabbed by somewhat obscure Swedish pop. 

And then by chance I heard this new track, ‘What’ by Alice Boman. She’s from Malmo.

 

 

Boman is listed to play the Green Man festival this year and I don’t doubt that it’ll be one haunting set. Last year, she released her first EP ‘Skisser’ (Sketches). That’s a beautiful and intimate collection of tunes but it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re surreptitiously opening somebody’s private journal when you’re listening. Boman’s voice floats over the top of a piano that’s given a ghostly, distance in the mix. 

‘What’ is the lead track from her second EP to be released in June. Indications suggest that it’s going to evoke the same tone as ‘Skisser’.

‘Do you ever think about me like I think about you?’ wonders Boman and I’m charmed, touched, moved and grabbed again.