Illustrada is a project with a very understated and intimate way to combine indie-folk with pop. Their recent single, Wide Eyed Tigress, is a track that blends in lush shoegaze textures with earnest folky guitars and beautiful vocals that remind me of the work of artists such as The Tallest Man On Earth, Ben Howard or Fleet Foxes, just to mention but a few. While the acoustics strum gently, electric guitars create beautiful textures that make me think of the work of artists such as Sigur Ros.
The arrangement of this song is simple and not too cluttered, yet the tune has a rich and deep sound, full of beautiful ambiance. The vocals are present, seamlessly cutting through the mix without overpowering. Wide Eyed Tigress certainly stands out for its simplicity: the song is elegant, classy and understated: this simple formula goes a long way, serving the project well. I love the playfulness of this song, as well as it’s sweet and delicate overtones.
If the term jazz-fusion is one which conjures thoughts of avant-gardist musical mayhem or worse, genres being forced against their will to break new ground, then you definitely need Francesca Mondi in your life. Yes, it is jazz being given a pop make over, but rather than a conflict of genres and the toning down of the key elements which define each of them, Francesca manages to bring out the best of both.
Devil’s Door has a meandering jazz groove and a soulful heart and the pop approach brings an accessible, not to mention commercial, vibe to the proceedings. Throw in some classic 60’s girl group harmonies and Francesca’s own sensuous tones and you have the perfect meeting of musical minds.
Steve Cornell finds a perfect middle ground between timeless Beatles-channelling psychedelia and rough, unforgiving grunge evoking Chris Cornell (no relation?) with his song Save Grace. While the song doesn’t reach the treacherous emotional peaks of the latter, it does pull in on the same dread that has tinged so many verses throughout decades of heartbroken songwriters staring into the abyss and coming back with a song to share.
The hopeless feeling emanating from the track can be applied to so many relatable heart aches from the personal to the existential. The affected guitar helps illustrate this dystopian noir of a soundscape with touches of color and beauty amongst the vulnerable, pained verses which urge the listener to head their warnings. Save Grace is a classic that we may not want to play until we’re ready to sit and listen intently, and in that fashion, we can maintain that it won’t be wasted falling on deaf ears of people in high spirits. This is a song for darker hours and it’s better kept that way.
If the idea of establishments such as Brit School may seem at odds with some people’s idea of learning how to be a performer, musician or songwriter, Bella Barton comes along to dispel any mistrust or doubts in such a system. If you think that these types of formal music training are likely to produce identikit popsters, one listen to Daughter will prove, not only a relief, but nothing short of a revelation. It is soulful, chilled, pop aware, bluesy and infectious and whilst it seems to be of a very covert and inconspicuous nature, it has great rhythm and drive, and just seem to instantly connect to the listener’s groove genes.
So what are we dealing with here? Sassy summer sensation? Ambient soul? A masterwork of understatement? Chilled pop classic? Actually, it is all of those things and more. In a pop world seemingly full of humourless clones, dance routines and careers built on marketing plans and image consultants, Bella is a breath of fresh air. She’s the girl next door turned pop sensation who just breezes past you with a new take on how simple pop can be. How simple and how great.
L.A. and Nashville are arguably two of the most important cities in the United States to the music industry.
Los Angeles is home to a kaleidoscopic music scene under the California sun, with a particular emphasis on rock music. Nashville is known for its country music scene and references to timeless Americana.
Die Blonde set out to combine these two musical philosophies and bridge the gaps between alternative rock and folk with their new compelling single, “L.A. and Nashville”. This song defies genre definitions and blurs the lines between the usual cliches, going for something edgy and refreshingly unpredictable.
The song immediately kicks off with some warm and bright acoustic guitar and an engaging stomping groove. The vocal harmonies are laden with beautiful reverb effects, going for a cool 60s feel – Think Mumford and Sons jamming with Tame Impala!
On “L.A. and Nashville”, Die Blonde set out to create a hazy and dreamy production aesthetic with psychedelic overtone. Their ability to create memorable melodies and poignant lyrics seamlessly blends in with their tasteful production value, making for a very organic and personal sound.
Chris Garcia may just have stumbled on the perfect template for modern pop, a way of using all its immediacy and infectiousness but retaining the integrity of the indie artist and the subtlety of the folk troubadour. Many have tried but he seems to have hit on a winning formula with The Fantasy.
Just enough coffee house folk seeps through, plenty of the modern singer-songwriter styling, enough indie vibe to keep it on a modern path and more than a touch of the pop jaunt normally associated with the likes of Jack Johnson. That is quite a lot to juggle and Chris Garcia does it elegantly and eloquently and for that he has my upmost thanks.
If the idea of folk and pop meeting together in an upbeat and commercial package has you shuddering at the memory of the likes of Mumford and The Whale’s brand of generic gene splicing, then thank the stars for Adam Wendler. His music is all the things I have just described but he seems more expertly guided in his choices. The melody is infectious, the beat groovesome and the lyrics relatable, the folk integrity and the pop catch blend seamlessly and his understanding of dynamic is masterful.
It’s a song which shows how neatly genres can dovetail into each other when a bit of thought is put into the artisanship and Adam can sleep safe in the knowledge that if ever he decides to take a break from the live circuit his songs would be snapped up by any artist with an ounce of common sense, right up to the likes of Ed Sheeran. I wonder what ever happened to him?
Strip back the modern sheen and studio gimmickry of most music and you find a folk template underneath, strip that back to its very essence and you are in the realms inhabited by Fremantle du Kings and Queens. Acoustic guitars sketch out the barest of structures add beautifully drifting vocals, close harmony dynamics and ambient whistling drones and you have everything that need to create their gothic country meets ambient-folk lines.
But if the building blocks seem simple, as always it is how you blend them and to what effect which is the real art and Kings and Queens are masters of taking such minimal threads and weaving a stark and striking sound, one built as much on what they leave out as what they put in. Atmosphere and anticipation hang in the gaps left between word and chord, proving that sometimes you don’t have to do much more than build musical bubbles around the sound of the world. The art is having the ear to hear them in the first place.
There is a beauty in the broken and John Isaac Watters fragile and vulnerable delivery is for that reason beautiful, unconventionally so but compelling none the less. He explores alt-country, dusty folk, carnival sideshow crooning, David Lynch soundtracks, Waitsian unconformity and much more besides.
Past Hope Now is timeless in that it can’t be pinned down to any era, it is evocative and nostalgic without tugging unnecessarily at too many heartstrings, it is fresh without trying to be fashionable and it is effortlessly experimental without seeming to try too hard to be clever, though a wonderfully clever musical creation it certainly is. But more than that, the fact that the music comes attached to an expansive and beautifully realised music video cum short film which explores the physical, mental and natural struggles of a couple with their desert surroundings only proves how brilliant music is at carrying an important message when in the right hands.
Somewhere west of the frantic folk-for-money thrash of Mumford and Sons but east of the rhinestones of the Nashville scene, beyond the oddly named British Americana movement and taking a left turn around the almost meaningless roots moniker, you will find the start of a forgotten highway. Jump in a car, preferably a Mustang with the top down, a crate of beer and a David Lynch soundtrack blasting out, drive until the sun goes down and you will come to a small roadside truck stop. This is the band that will be on in an hour.
Somehow Up Down Go Machine manage to swerve all the clichés whilst capturing a wonderful sense of pathos and theatre and the result is an ambient take on the southern, country-rock sound. The real standouts of the track are the things that don’t stand out at all…space, restraint and understatement. And it is these tools that they use both to create a drifting chill that washes through the music and also as a contrast to the big dynamics which occasionally punch through.
It just shows you that it isn’t about how much music you use to build a track, it is more about the passion, soul and emotion you imbue it with and Gambler has a whole pick-up truck’s worth of those qualities.