I sometimes like to imagine a Black Mirror-esque world in which a group of distraught music bloggers have set up permanent camp outside XL studio’s, hoping to catch a glimpse of the future lord and saviour Jai Paul before they die. As the years go by without any sight, the bloggers survive by writing viral content for BuzzFeed, and one even takes a part-time job at Morrison’s, much to the dismay of the others. In 2022, an album of half-finished demo’s are once again “accidentally” uploaded and removed within the hour. A media frenzy follows, forcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson to hold an emergency meeting of Parliament. Broadcasting exclusively on the Skyplayer the next day, Johnson issues a strong warning to XL recordings demanding an official album stream be released online within 24 hours or he’ll aim the now re-armed Trident missile towards Richard Russell’s mansion. Meanwhile, Jai Paul, watching the chaos unfold from his bedroom in Rayners Lane, eats a packet of Pom-Bears, then masturbates frantically to the sound of Prince, confused and lonely.
With all the added pressure of that admittedly ludicrous introduction, I’m excited to unveil Manchester’s Jamaal Monarch; a promising electronica artist that could potentially fill the Jai Paul shaped void in our lives. Debut track Horses displays all the hallmarks of a future-pop classic, from it’s intoxicating dark sensuality to the woozy chopped up production. The immediacy found in Monarch’s beats will make him an intriguing prospect in the internet age, where even the most cynical of us should be able to recognise great songwriting and hype are not mutually exclusive. Sure, it’s a long road ahead towards mainstream consciousness, but is it so hard to imagine when The Weeknd recently hit number one in multiple countries. Remember the name folks…
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.
Sheffield’s 65daysofstatic opened up a brave new world to me nearly 10 years ago, with their now seminal second album ‘One for All Time’, which pounded at the senses in such relentless fashion that my ears nearly exploded with joy. The pioneering instrumental outfit rightly made the national headlines this past week, after receiving a grant from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and responding to the Government’s PR posturing with a scathing critique of their support of the arts (or rather the lack of it). It seems somewhat fitting that directly after reading their article, that I should discover John Douglas aka Gloams, an exciting grassroots artist based in Manchester, who shares a similar musical DNA to 65dos, combining elements of post-rock, electronica and drum ‘n’ bass.
‘Who’d 4Get U‘ is an elaborate and intricate composition, beginning with a single lilting guitar, before quickly growing in pace, like hurried footsteps running towards the one you love. The echoing thump of a bass drum frenetically rises in and out of the shadows, before it reaches it’s ultimate crescendo. ‘Pheromone‘ is quite simply an expansive masterpiece, featuring some of the most beautiful textures and soundscapes I’ve heard outside of Sigur Ros – this is music at it’s most widescreen and colourful. Seemingly out of nowhere, Gloams has unveiled a debut collection of tracks that demonstrates not only a technical brilliance, but an undeniably ambitious and emotional approach to songwriting – we should embrace him with an open heart.
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/
For a few days now I’ve been hearing a strange muffled noise emitting from the confines of my flat, and last night I was really struggling to sleep because of it. I was too tired and unsettled to seriously investigate, instead deciding to take refuge under my pillow and pretend like it didn’t exist. This morning, my senses far more acute, I established the sound was coming from the ceiling above my bed. I reached up high and banged my fist against the exterior… the noise increasing tenfold… as did the realisation I was now sharing my home with a gang of bees. I could see them hovering around outside my window, and I felt automatically connected to them.
The humble worker bee is Manchester’s most recognisable cultural symbol; you’ll find them here decorating our brickwork, bridges and bins. It’s fair to say the bee represents the industry and collaboration of our creative scene – just as much now as the mills and factories of our past. People here tend not to make a big deal about what they are up to, all the best art is hidden away like beautiful honey… only when the hive is disturbed will all the bee’s emerge. Paul Blake is the kind of person who reflects this modern landscape – an engaging character, you’ll often find him out with his partner Kyoko Swan (Kyogen/PINS) at local shows, supportive, positive and clearly inspired by the artist’s he surrounds himself with.
Pain Threshold, his own musical project, is a highly personal affair; a slow dissection of his mind and mortality. The song-craft and emotive lyricism found in standout track Being and Nothingness are wrapped in experience and understanding… a world weariness that feels almost inescapable. This bold and beautiful approach is reminiscent of the early MONEY recordings, with all the same raw and poetic qualities to his work. It’s time for this bee to make some noise.
I read an interview recently with No Fear Of Pop’s Henning Lahmann, in which he discussed the current state of music blogging. I don’t wish to sound bite, because it’s definitely worth reading the article in full, but it certainly made me reflect on my own approach to music writing and reinforced my reasons for doing it. The joy for me has always been in the act of discovery – I would simply not be comfortable being another regurgitating industry-fed voice. I’ve always believed in championing the new, the obscure… the kind of artists that don’t have a PR company behind them from the beginning.
With that in mind, I’ve been keeping this one to myself for a couple of weeks now… a secret I’ve been wanting to share but couldn’t quite find the right words to do it justice. A collaboration made in Manchester, ‘It’s All Over‘ is a truly magical composition between electronic producer THeory (Tom Hallett) and singer Zoë Violet (Zoë Mcnamara). THeory’s glitchy and glistening beats are both subtle and engaging, underlying a delicate piano led piece that is brought to life in startling fashion by Violet’s soulful, Morcheeba-esque vocals. Her performance feels effortlessly controlled, with enough space and light in it to highlight a rare fragile quality, and a small glimpse of this future star’s true ability. It’s hard not to get excited by two promising young artists that clearly compliment each other so beautifully.
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.