When my facebook feed was suddenly overloaded this evening with beautiful images of ethereal landscapes, dilapidated boats and a towering volcano over a field of green, I knew that one of my friends had been visiting Iceland. The friend in question happened to be underground music journalist Cath Aubergine, who in all honesty has been one of the most important (and unsung) figures for promoting new artists in the last 15 years. She was in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves Festival, and I thought I’d be foolish not to explore some of the many gigs she had been documenting. It was here, hidden within her photographs, that I discovered the heartwarming story of Steinunn Jónsdóttir.
Making electronic music under the playful name of asdfhg, Steinunn Jónsdóttir’s debut EP ‘Steingervingur‘ (2015) was written and recorded in her parent’s basement at the tender age of 16. Pseudonymously uploaded to bandcamp and shared with just a few close friends; it was accidentally unearthed during a late-night listening session by one of the judges of the Kraumur award – an Icelandic grassroots art prize. After a little investigation, Jónsdóttir found herself revealed and catapulted into the spotlight, unexpectedly winning one of the awards against some of the more established names. Now, just a few months on, and working with fellow musician Orri Úlfarsson, the project has taken on a life of it’s own, with 2016 already seeing the release of two stunningly crafted EP’s in ‘Skammdegi‘ and ‘Kliður‘.
The delicate dreaminess in September’s ‘Kliður’ is surely evidence enough of their remarkable talent together, but with a growing confidence in her voice, it seems like Jónsdóttir is tantalisingly close to producing something that breaks beyond Iceland and into the larger musical world. ‘Steypa‘ is the track I keep coming back to; hypnotic in it’s movement and an eternal state of innocence in it’s sound. But don’t be fooled by that, there’s a darkness here too… a lonely, insular sort of feeling that separates her from the whimsical and into the magnificent. Perhaps it wasn’t so accidental for Steinunn Jónsdóttir. Some things are meant to be.
Thanks to Hrefna Björg Gylfadóttir and The Reykjavik Grapevine.
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 some reason Manchester based Gorgeous Bully have never quite connected with me. It’s hard to explain why, I mean, I’ve listened to and enjoyed their music, but it’s just never set my heart on fire, or made me press repeat until my finger bleeds…until now that is.
Taken from ‘Smiling, Laughing’ a new collection of songs available via bandcamp, Misery Loves Company has changed everything… a breakthrough moment that will make me go back and discover what I’ve clearly been missing. Thomas Crang’s vocals hazily wandering through swoonsome guitar melodies, this is glorious pop music hidden underneath the disguise of lo-fi self-loathing. What’s not to love?
The passing of time often goes by unnoticed; days become nights, weeks become years… we see the changes happening all around us and yet we try to convince ourselves we’re not really changing too. Before you know it, you find yourself looking at a face you don’t really recognise. Today is my Birthday, and I am looking into the mirror. My immediate reaction is one of repulsion, closely followed by fascination… love and finally, relief… because I’m still here, trying to be the best person I can be.
Willis Earl Beal is trying too. An artist who speaks with an unparalleled honesty, his music touches me on a very personal level. It’s hard not to relate to a man that has seemingly lived his life searching, creating… adapting. Beal’s story so far is almost mythological.. raised in Chicago, he joined the army and was discharged, worked a succession of low-paid jobs… even spending some time homeless. He left self-illustrated flyers around town in the hope of finding a girlfriend. He auditioned for the X Factor (dropping out at boot-camp) before being signed by XL imprint Hot Charity… releasing two albums, Acousmatic Sorcery and Nobody Knows to critical acclaim. The fame that followed seemed to have a negative effect and acknowledging this, Beal retreated back into his art (and loneliness) to write his latest work; the self-produced and released Experiments In Time. This 21 track collection of lo-fi recordings breathes new life into Beal’s soulful voice, which at times echoes the warm tones of Nat King Cole. A tender vulnerability is found throughout the album, and as such makes it emphatically and heart-breakingly relatable.
David Thomas Broughton has always been an enigma – his first record ‘The Complete Guide To Insufficiency'(2005) was a complex creation, an intimate collection of material that certainly deserved it’s critical acclaim. The haunting sadness of ‘An Ever Rotating Sky’ will long stay in the memory, swirling in tension… Broughton’s hypnotic vocal resembling Antony Hegarty with a Yorkshire lilt; his delivery always captivating.
Now residing in Seoul, South Korea, his recorded output often seemed a little at odds with his live performances… which are confrontational and at times awkwardly weird. But look beyond this initially theatrical exterior, and you can start to relate his behaviour with the inwardly intense themes of his music. ‘In Service’ taken from the forthcoming album ‘Sliding The Same Way'(Song By Toad Records) is a self-conscious and introspective display of his own failings. Made in collaboration with The Juice Vocal Ensemble and recorded together in a few hours in David’s home town of Otley, this semi-improvised track is a marriage made in heaven, wrapped up in a devastating and reflective beauty.
I’ve found myself increasingly intrigued in recent months by Douga, predominantly the output of Manchester’s Johnny Winbolt-Lewis, former member of kraut-psychonauts Plank!.
While not directly competing with his old band for outright volume or opposable riffs, JWL is now beginning to fully demonstrate his unique ability to smash together charming, chiming and occasionally unpredictable jams with clever lo-fi pop twists and understated arrangements.
I can’t help feeling that Kids Of Tomorrow, the opener to upcoming album The Silent Well more than anything represents a door opening and an era beginning. There’s a intriguing number of sides to the Douga shape – some of which are yet to be entirely revealed – and I’ll be punching the air with joy if they’ve been captured on this outing.
London based Lo-Fi duo Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck make sophisticated and seductive lounge pop. Charming and instantly likeable, Elephant‘s sound is a catchy and intuitive monochrome pastiche of French new wave and disco influences; all studied cool, their music packs a stylish, cinematic punch.
It’s impossible not to be smitten with Statuesque‘s lyrically wholesome nonchalance. Rivas has a wonderfully sweet and effortless vocal delivery, each dreamy phrase cascades through a wash of Hammond style organs and the steady, soulful pulse of the rhythm section. If you’re a fan of the likes of Nouvelle Vague and Charlotte Gainsbourg you’ll be enamoured with Elephant.
This most pleasant of earworms has been carrying me joyously through the wind, rain, sleet and cold-white-bouncing-sky-bullets for the best part of a week now, and despite it’s obviously sunshiny persuasion, I can’t see it relenting for some time yet.
Gunns hail from Fremantle, Australia with a penchant for perfect pop and plenty of reverb of the old school variety. Imagine Pixies at their surfiest or Temple Songs circumnavigating a 60s echo chamber and you’re already halfway towards kissing the golden sand, grabbing a board, and jumping out into the bright blue sea. This being one of their slower numbers, there’s a lovely swinging bassline thrown in for good measure too.
You may not be aware of the C2 programme tucked away in the night-time hours of the BBC Radio Cymru schedules, but each show is a charming and warm celebration of Welsh indie and alternative bands. The number of unknown gems uncovered for me by C2 runs into double figures, and for that, I truly say diolch am fawr.
It was thanks to C2 one iPlayerd morning that I was introduced to the enigmatic and elusive W H Dyfodol. He has been part of the Welsh underground for years, and may have hit peoples collective radar under the guise of Land of Bingo, from whom Lufthansa is a beautiful highlight. Now working under the name Y Pencadlys (Welsh for The Headquarters), he is perfectly cast as the lo-fi electronica champ hidden behind shadows in publicity photographs.
The new single, released through the highly enthusiastic Peski Records, combines masked lyrics over discordant echoes and bubbling beats, as the melancholia of the title makes way for a lingering sense of release and relief. That often repeated title, Mae Pawb Yn Haeddu Glaw Yn Waeth Na Fi, is perhaps the least expected earworm of the winter, the distinctive Welsh language working well against the occasionally harsh cuts of the music below. A new album, as yet untitled, is expected in the Spring.
As anyone who has witnessed the mighty Brown Brogues live will attest to…. they are pretty hard to ignore. The two-piece consisting of Mark Vernon (guitar) and Ben Mather (drums) bury addictive singalongs into raw unadulterated garage fuzz. A huge part of Manchester’s thriving DIY community, it’s beginning to feel like we can no longer contain them.
New album Triflin’ (Stream here) is an evolution of their sound. More defined, more measured in its approach but still exuberant, full of distortion. Lead single Split Disc is a perfect example with a dirty, delirious expanse that’s both comforting and disorienting. Brown Brogues might punch you in the stomach but they’ll do it with a smile.
5 Bristol Stag and Hounds
10 Newcastle Brew Dog
11 Stockton The Green Room
12 Edinburgh Henrys
17 Liverpool Sound
18 Sheffield The Bowery (Free Show)
19 Birmingham Secret Greasy Location
23 Manchester The Castle Hotel
24 London The Lock Tavern (Free Show)
25 Bath The Royal Oak
26 Plymouth Tiki Bar and Grill