For the last few weeks, my life has been lost inside a chaotic mess… clothes, books and pieces of paper strewn across my bedroom floor, a mountain of food wrappers and unwashed plates gathering dust. I’m in self-destruct mode and something needs to change. Writing has always been such a positive outlet for me but lately I’ve been avoiding doing the things I love. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate, my eyes straining into the dim light of my laptop screen… fingers fumbling across the keyboard trying to piece together my thoughts. Even listening to music has felt like a chore.
The band that I so often turn to in times of disrepair is MONEY. Having watched them from the very beginning, I feel a personal connection with their journey, which culminated in the release of debut album ‘The Shadow of Heaven’ (Bella Union) and a momentous performance at M.I.F in 2013. It was a strange experience staring at Jamie Lee’s naked torso as I danced next to Hayley Cropper, a sea of Mancunians singing every word of ‘Letter To Yesterday’ with me.
Lee’s dark poetic lyricism, with it’s moments of intimacy and inner madness were always a focal point in my love for MONEY, but hidden deeper within the musical layers was the tender work of shy guitarist Charlie Cocksedge. Now in the process of revealing solo material that he wrote in between touring, it’s clear from these blossoming compositions that Cocksedge is the sun to Lee’s moon… a creative dynamic that works beautifully in harmony together, but individually is just as captivating.
‘Be‘ is a 10 minute instrumental piece that delivers subtle melodies and the kind of twinkling progressive sound that delicately brings your imagination alive. With influences ranging from Nils Frahm to Jonny Greenwood, Cocksedge’s ambient noise is a slow-burning and expansive world, as emotionally powerful as it is technically brilliant. Music like this will always be there for me when I’m struggling, like tiny fragments of light managing to find a way through the cracks in my head.
I guess it irks me a little when I see those (now traditional) click-bait think pieces about the death or “stagnation of guitar music”. I mean, I appreciate the argument being made… the music industry does seem intent on championing the bland over the brave, but surely it’s up to us as music fans to dig a little deeper, to invest in the bands we love?
Living in Manchester, it’s hard to argue against a city that has produced MONEY, Everything Everything, PINS, Kult Country, Dutch Uncles, WU LYF… and that’s not even acknowledging our deep and rich history, or the wider underground scene as it is today. It would be pretty easy to critique each band individually, but what isn’t debatable is that guitar music is well and truly alive here, from the bedsits of Whalley Range to the bunkers of Salford.
I See Angels are one of my more recent Mancunian loves, having been transfixed by last year’s ‘Artificial Sunshine’ EP. Songwriter Paul Baird is clearly growing in confidence, capturing his hopes and fears so beautifully in each and every delicate strum. New track ‘Master Of The Sky’ glistens effortlessly in emotion. Baird’s vocals sound like a trembling Thom Yorke trying to find his way out of a dream… an almost disparate loneliness trapped inside a magical and cinematic landscape.
When I have trouble sleeping, I tend to go on huge soundcloud binges… often bringing lucrative musical returns. Manchester producer Bhrisc is one of my most recent late night discoveries, and with Mary Anne Hobbs already taking any interest, I’m clearly not alone in my way of thinking. Describing 6550 on her 6 Music show as a “descent into darkness”, his take on modern techno knowingly exploits a sense of loneliness and alienation. L.A Arch is all smokey textures and industrial noise… you quickly lose yourself in the repetitive droney beats. Bhrisc’s production is cold but emotional; a thudding and fragile detachment from reality.
Hailing from Oregon, Dalton Moehnke, or Polysemy as he’s otherwise known, puts together some enchanting experimental electronica with a strong psychedelic edge. Look Out! EP is crammed with glorious and warm soundscapes that echo everything from a Dark Side of the Moon-esque lunacy to a more contemporary Warp influence. It’s a human sound, awash with organic textures and electronic ambience – rich and inviting on the ears.
The title track opens with some sweetly delivered vocals before swiftly sidestepping convention – synths, voices and laughter collide in kaleidoscopic waves in an upbeat and colourful trip. The cartwheeling beats and progressions of A Laughter From An Empty Room float like a feather on the breeze – simple yet mesmerizing. There’s an overall feel of calm about Polysemy’s music that transcends its more off the wall moments, seducing you to abandon everything and indulge your senses. If it catches you in the right mood you’ll find you embrace it like a long lost friend.
Brooklyn based Lee Sargent is an artist worth falling in love with. As guitarist in alternative rock band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Sargent played a notable role in my musical awakening, but only now do I realise his true genius.
There is a touch of early Sigur Ros in Noa Eini, one of many cinematic compositions that I have discovered… layers of instrumentation wrapped up in a crackling electronic beauty. His experience working with brother Tyler on the film score to Alex Karpovsky’s film Woodpecker (which also featured Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood) has undoubtedly helped shape his creative path… a rich neo-classical influence that goes beyond the mundane and into the unreal. If you want instant gratification, move along… this is the work of a master painter with the ability to find depth, resonance and emotion in every note.
I’ve spent the past month in a peaceful winter hibernation, and it seems like so many of you have been doing the same. I’m not entirely sure where this year is going to take me yet… but I can, at last, see enough sunlight breaking through the folds in my curtain to feel positive and re-energised.
The first artist to really engage me in 2015 is Supermoon, the new project from Edinburgh’s Neil Pennycook. Standout track Death To Meursault makes (murderous) reference to his previous band, although don’t be fooled by this wry gesture… Supermoon is not so much of a creative departure, more a quiet evolution.
Meursault were a big favourite of mine, releasing three albums of material together, each one a work of understated magnificence. Often compared to Scottish peers Frightened Rabbit and The Twilight Sad… Meursault’s revolving cast of musicians received plenty of critical acclaim, but never quite found the wider audience they truly deserved.
Pennycook was always the beating heart of Meursault; his intimate and warm nature often at odds with the intensity and sadness found in his work. It is this compelling dichotomy that will no doubt propel Supermoon to be a beautiful success… one that hopefully shines bigger and brighter than ever before.