This month marks the 10th anniversary of my arrival in Manchester, and it seems fitting that I’m introducing a new band tipped by Dan Parrott, one of the many unsung architects of the modern music scene here. We first crossed paths back when he was working as music producer on Channel M – a much missed local station that gave debut television broadcasts to the likes of Deerhunter and Laura Marling. His label Love & Disaster, released early tracks from Everything Everything, Dutch Uncles, Delphic and the criminally underrated Airship.
Now running Low Four; a multifaceted music project utilising a beautiful and iconic recording space in the old Granada Studios – Parrott is once again putting his energy into helping new artists. With a focus on music programming/online streaming, it’s undoubtedly going to help re-affirm Manchester’s international reputation, as well as give a home to some of the city’s brightest talents. Having already recorded a live session there on the basis of a handful of demos, synth pop act Koalas are one of the first to benefit.
Led by composer and vocalist Samuel Jones; it’s clear that Koalas songcraft has been patiently and lovingly honed, with debut track Home Heart immediately hitting all the right notes. Co-produced by Brendan Williams (Dutch Uncles/GoGo Penguin) the hidden complexities of the track slowly reveal themselves, fluttering between ideas and textures fluidly to create a reassuringly warm and nostalgia tinged sound. Influenced by Caribou and Boards of Canada; an appreciation for sonic experimentation is balanced delicately with the desire to tug at heartstrings with gorgeously subtle pop harmonies. Vocalist Rachel Waters hushed words merely tease at her true abilities.. but then a little bit of mystery only adds to the allure. In contrast Jones’s chorus swoons and shimmers, dancing nervously around, waiting for an opportunity to break free.
When producer and visual artist Ben Pearson returned home to Manchester after a year living in Melbourne, fragments of ideas began to blossom into a fully realised project. Ultraviolet, the debut Espher LP, might have began life under a familiar industrial skyline, but it’s clear the world created is both expansive and beautifully imagined. Moments of highly personal introspection intertwine seamlessly with dream-like sequences which float into the unreal.
Album opener Zenith is an 8 minute introduction of cinematic proportions, slowly revealing the scale of Pearson’s ambition; a bold artistic statement that reaches far into the depths of a bleak universe, before pushing at the edges and breaking, exploding, scattering across the sky like dust. Bringing to my mind at least, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine… where humanity finds itself on the brink of oblivion. Themes of life and death, time and travel, technology and nature are intelligently woven throughout Ultraviolet in a lucid electronic tapestry.
Lunar Light Rays are shafts of light that shine through the gaps and cracks in crater walls to illuminate the moon surface. After the apocalypse must come hope. Pearson’s inventive production here is so playful and free – almost like dandelion seeds floating through the wind that you can’t help but be swept along. It’s this ability to marry the light with the dark that makes Espher such an intriguing proposition; everything is lovingly connected.
There’s a sense of looking back with regret on the spiritual Within. Pearson’s blank vocals and brooding melancholy are strangely comforting; ghosts of the past carrying you reassuringly into the next life. Taking influence from James Blake’s gospel-infused electronica, it’s the first moment where I truly felt like I was part of the Ultraviolet story, rather than watching from afar.
For someone as technically accomplished as Pearson undoubtedly is, and with so many individual and contrasting components at work, it’s a miracle he has managed to make Ultraviolet sound cohesive… but always full of surprises. Together is a heartbreaking collaboration with the mysterious Shy Heavens. Lyrically dealing with grief, loss and faith – this is a great pop song hidden in the bloodstream of Ultraviolet’s body.
The album’s true highlight is Mångata; a devastatingly personal reflection, mesmerising in it’s own simplicity. Pearson’s relationship with his piano is one that echoes the minimalist ideals of Nils Frahm and here it takes centre stage – giving emphasis to raw human emotion; loneliness, frustration and a voice that wishes to be heard. With tracks like this, it will be. Sometimes it’s the quietest moments that make the biggest noise.
There are great dancefloor anthems here too. The gloriously propulsive Orchid wouldn’t feel out of place on Jon Hopkin’s masterpiece ‘Immunity’, beats bouncing around like charged atoms waiting to collide with each other, whilst Sufi glows in glorious ambient swirls. Ultraviolet is a triumph in sonic exploration, and Pearson’s arrangements are able to move both your heart and feet; shifting the direction of travel effortlessly from vulnerability to self-belief, from pleasure to retreat.
A trilogy of songs build momentously towards a dizzying grand finale. Machina, a glitchy, androgynous masterpiece, with traces of Kid A era Radiohead – makes me imagine digital raindrops falling to the ground, panic setting in… almost like a dystopian nightmare and an awakening from a dream. Pelog urgently ushers in the end, the ticking of life’s clock and crystalline heartbeats hurrying you towards the brutal and beautiful Guardian … a song that confronts Pearson’s isolation head on, an emotional climax that pirouettes between fear and euphoria. Ultraviolet, although full of individual brilliance, was designed to be heard as a whole – musical chromosomes tied together to form a living, breathing organism.
Ultraviolet by Espher is available now on digital download and limited edition C54 tape
via Ramber Records http://www.ramberrecords.bigcartel.com/product/ram_010-espher-ultraviolet
“If this is the best of all possible worlds, what are the others?”
– Voltaire, Candide
It was always going to take something truly magical to awaken me from my writer’s hibernation. With every passing month, it’s felt harder and harder to find the right words. I bought a desk in an attempt to commit myself, but the desk soon became littered with half-finished articles and a sense of frustration. I kept making excuses and finding new distractions…. and I think for a while, I might have even fallen a little bit out of love with music. That seems like such a strange and horrible thing to admit now, because in truth, it took just a few seconds of ‘Candide’ by Parade, to know that this was THE song to make everything right again.
A beautifully imagined debut by one of Manchester’s most promising new artists; ‘Candide’ is seemingly seeped in an old fashioned romanticism, a celebration of regret, despair and longing. Every moment is tenderly crafted by an artist determined to find hope in the darkest of places. Produced in the now mythological SWAYS Bunker.. or for the unenlightened, the spiritual home to some of Manchester’s greatest modern outfits (MONEY, Kult Country, Bernard & Edith and PINS) it seems like the stars might be aligning for Parade to break beyond the confines of the crumbling white walls that stand defiantly opposite Strangeways prison in Salford.
Having been a member of the confrontational and enigmatic post-rock outfit, Hartheim; a band which ended in the most tragic of circumstances with the untimely passing of guitarist Gaz Devreede, one could have almost forgiven Parade’s Nic Townley if he had disappeared off the radar completely. But this is a fascinatingly personal vision, full of hunger, desire and a dream-like innocence that clings lovingly onto every piano chord. With a vocal tone reminiscent of the unashamedly emotional quiver of Jeff Buckley, Townley has a remarkable ability to draw the listener into his world, and keep you there. Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek invited Townley to sing on stage with him during last year’s RNCM show; an unreal moment for an unknown artist, but one taken confidently. Candide is one of the most heartbreakingly perfect pieces of work I’ve heard in forever.
When modern icon Kendrick Lamar performed a surprise secret show in Manchester recently, he also found the time to cypher with local talent at a workshop organised by Brighter Sounds. Clearly inspired by the opportunity to impress K.Dot; 21 year old Layfullstop rose to the challenge, holding her own on the mic against the Grammy-award winning star. It was the kind of attention-grabbing statement that she could only have imagined making the night before… but for those in the know, it’s just a matter of time before the spotlight takes on a more permanent fixture.
Currently one of Manchester’s best kept secrets, 21 year old Lay Nathan has already been exciting audiences with her genre-defying performances; experimenting with elements of neo-soul, jazz, electronica, hip hop and grime. Living in a city which naturally encourages collaboration, it’s no surprise to discover her recorded output is equally as expressive; as a member of urban collectives Roots Raddix and Cul Dé Sac, her talent is clearly being nurtured lovingly by those around her.
As a solo artist, Lay. has continually played with her artistic identity; there’s a real sense of freedom to her work, which from a purely technical perspective, displays a high level of skill and confidence… but, it’s the emotions behind her voice that truly make her something special. Latest release Angel Halo feels like it could be breakthrough moment, a track that mixes old school soul and injects it with modern hip hop – harking back to those 90’s R’n’B halcyon days, when Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill and TLC were ruling the charts. Produced by Keziyah, the intelligently subtle and sophisticated production gives the track breathing space and allows her to reach for moments of beauty with her sultry and distinct velvet harmonies.
Clémentine Blue has been trying to understand the true meaning of home for a long time now; having moved to the UK from France a few years ago, she’s since found herself living in Brighton, Manchester and more recently London. As a result, her musical palette is disarmingly colourful, glistening vividly with all manner of ideas and inspirations – but her real ability lies in being able to bring together these influences to form a bewilderingly beautiful patchwork quilt of sound, fashioned by the memories of people she’s met, loved and lost along the way.
‘The Sea’ is the first song to be taken from her stunning debut EP ‘Outremer’, a collection of bedroom recordings produced and mixed by Clémentine herself, exploring themes of loneliness and abandonment with a tender sensuality. Like Annie Clark’s St Vincent, Tiger Lion is a project that defiantly embraces change, experimenting with different cultures by taking traditional instruments away from their context. However, it’s her moments of intimate expression that really draw you in deeper, exposing a vulnerability with a depth far beyond your initial expectations. The accompanying video, directed in collaboration with Angèle Béraud, is soaked in shades of blue; each subtle tone and texture forming an emotional connection with the music.
‘Outremer’ is released via Woodland Recordings on the 29/11. Limited edition physical copies of the EP will be available with hand-stamped CDs inside a 7″ sleeve, a numbered print of one of Clementine Blue’s analog photographs + lyrics booklet and hand painted credits.
Tiger Lion plays Pitchblack at Birthdays in London on the 18/12.
I’m writing this on my birthday. I wake up to the sound of my cat clawing at the curtains; my eyes catching tiny glimpses of morning light with each scratch. I decide to hide under the covers for the best part of an hour before finally accepting defeat and dragging myself out of bed. I slowly shuffle towards the bathroom, look into the mirror and see a tired, reluctant face staring back. I’ve never much liked my face – it reminds me too much of my father, and with each passing year it feels more like his than my own. My relationship with my dad is virtually non-existent – he had an affair with my best friend’s Mum when I was 13 years old. He seems to have completely given up on the idea of repairing the damage between us these days; I don’t even get a card.
I listen to Francis Lung’s ‘Back One Day’ to cheer myself up – it’s a song that manages in a few triumphant minutes to reaffirm my belief in life and love. There’s a raw honesty in Tom McLung’s lyrics, and the tender piano notes feel almost Daniel Johnston-esque in their tone. The impressively cathartic chorus breaks free with almost willful abandonment. McLung’s solo ambitions have been in the works since he was a teenager, taking a backseat during the WU LYF days, but always there… his song-writing being patiently refined and developed. Having built up a reputation for an impassioned live show, McLung seems to be able to delicately balance both the intimate and more extrovert aspects of performance. The clean white suit he wears demands the audience to look at him… but when you do, you see a performer lost in his own world… and the accompanying video to ‘Back One Day’ reflects this, with Manchester visual artist Ella Deacy keeping the focus on McLung’s anguished facial movements. At times McLung reminds me of John Lennon, his melodies are beautifully simple in their structure, or at least they seem that way; I guess that’s the trick to all great pop music.
A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of enjoying my morning cycle to work, when I suddenly found myself flailing towards the cold concrete floor, hitting the deck with an almighty thud. The car driver, clearly at fault for the collision, heartlessly left me lying there like I didn’t exist. As a result, my arm is now cushioned in a sling, nursing a dislocated shoulder. This is the first time I’ve felt like writing since the accident, and although typing is a slow painful process, Manchester’s Church Party are certainly worth every word.
I’ve kept a close eye on this band now for the best part of a year, secretly hoping that they would become more than just a couple of promising demos, and it seems like my faith might be rewarded. Dancing confidently on the graveyard of WU LYF’s heavy pop, debut single ‘Isosceles‘ glistens in melodic guitar lines but remains defiantly raw, urgent… Tom Stewart’s yearning vocals disappearing into a state of wasted euphoria and pounding drums. I can already hear the climactic “take me home” echoing in my mind, never to be forgotten.
Swallow Me Whole then takes us into Nick Cave territory, beginning life as a shadowy baritone lullaby, which sways eerily in atmosphere, patiently marching towards something far bigger… it’s underlying menace growing more prominent, before finally unleashing it’s visceral conclusion; an explosion of scuzzy noise and the strained howls of regret and despair.
A rare pink meadow grasshopper was recently spotted in inner-city Salford by Dr Luke Blazejewski, an independent film-maker and urban wildlife specialist. I can only imagine the excitement he must have felt that day, knowing it’s discovery could be an important piece in understanding, documenting and protecting our environment. It gives us a fascinating insight into how, when left alone, a small ecosystem can be a breeding ground for life at it’s most magical and unique.
When I think about it, what Dr Luke and I do isn’t all that different. For the past 8 years, I’ve tried to document Manchester’s music scene, with it’s sprawling diversity, hidden secrets and ever-changing landscape. Undoubtedly a new name to most, Tom Hardwick-Allan is my latest find, every bit as beautiful as a rare pink grasshopper. From the early raw bedroom demo’s of ‘Li’ and ‘Unwritten Confession 2’, where Tom’s baritone vocal crackles and glows into near oblivion, to his more recent experiments with drone and industrial noise on ‘Cold Clear Sky’ and ‘When You Die I’ll Think Of You As The Sky’; it’s clear to me that there is something special at work here. Still only a teenager, and at times bringing to mind Dean Blunt at his most understated and emotive, these developing ideas are fragmented but undeniably affecting.
‘Snakes Fucking‘ is a bleak but darkly euphoric introduction to his world, with it’s chiming guitars and bellowing trombone, seemingly unsure of itself but unlike anything I’ve ever heard. Using google translate to dehumanise his voice, the unnatural patterns of speech are at odds with the track’s lyrical content, which reveal a painfully intimate cry for help. All too aware of it’s contradictory nature, it’s hard not to find yourself disappearing into Hardwick-Allan’s lonely post-modern depths with relative ease. The video only enhances this experience further, with it’s minimalist and clinical grey room, in stark contrast to the private self-reflection on offer. As the track progresses, a Pinocchio-esque long nose is revealed, perhaps hinting that the lines between the real and the unreal are often closer than you think.
Tom Hardwick-Allan releases debut EP ‘When Waiting’ in August via Tru Luv https://truluv.bandcamp.com/
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.
Reykjavík’s Gangly have burst mysteriously into existence with their debut track Fuck With Someone Else, a bewilderingly beautiful and fully formed vision. Of course, the internet is getting VERY excited… but one listen is all it took for me to understand why. Gangly have created an immersive electronic landscape, one that glistens in both darkness and light. It feels like the female/male vocals are dancing with each other, a heart-breaking tension found in the space between them.