Happy Release Day Daughter Of Swords

In 2017, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig began recording a set of songs about a breakup that had yet to happen. Her partnership had drifted into a comfortable state of indecision, stalling when it came time to make big life moves or chase new horizons. She had the sense that she needed to slip the relationship in order to pursue everything else life might have in store-more music, more adventures, a general sense of the unknown. Those feelings drifted steadily into a set of songs that lamented the inevitable loss but, more important, outlined the promise of the future. Recording the ten tracks that became her stunning solo debut, Dawnbreaker, under the new name Daughter of Swords gave Sauser-Monnig permission to go.

Dawnbreaker began as the first phase of Sauser-Monnig’s return to music after stepping to the sidelines for the better part of a decade. Her college trio, Mountain Man, rose to quick acclaim for their peerless harmonies around 2010, but the friends slowly drifted apart, following their own interests to different coasts and concerns. While working on a flower farm as a farmhand, though, Sauser-Monnig realized that she missed the emotional articulation she found in writing songs and singing them and resolved to start again. She pieced together an album just as Mountain Man-now newly gathered in the fertile Piedmont of North Carolina-began to regroup for its second LP, 2018’s aptly named Magic Ship. Working with Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn, Sauser-Monnig shaped what began as quiet reflections into confident compositions, crackling with country swagger and a sparkling pop warmth. They were, after all, preemptive odes to the next phase of life.

Calling the ten tunes of Dawnbreaker breakup songs is to hamstring them with elegiac expectations, to paint them as sad-eyed surrenders to loss and grief. Sure, there is the gentle opener “Fellows,” a hushed number that explores the turmoil of being unable to reciprocate the feelings of a wild and shy, tall and fine man. And there’s the blossoming country shuffle of “Easy Is Hard,” where Sauser-Monnig stands in the yard and sees her lover leave, his taillights fading into the night sky; she can’t sleep, so she gets up to turn the lights and stereo on, to “feel my soul coming down.”
Even there, amid the throes of a life convulsion, there is a wisp of hope and possibility, framed by the way “the dim light change[s] into dawn, rosy blue, pink fawn.” The very heart of Dawnbreaker is not the impending breakup that inspired many of its songs but the sense of liberation and breaking out that the breakup inspired. Buoyed by the insistent patter of a drum machine and rich acoustic guitars, Sauser-Monnig finds herself in search of new thrills during “Gem,” whether pondering the fleeting nature of existence at a waterfall’s edge or watching the shapes of mountains seemingly dance beneath her headlights. The muted, harmonica-lined boogie of “Sun” begins with a vulnerable confession, a revelation of loneliness; it is, however, a low-key anthem for the open road, about giving oneself over to the infinity of solitude and an endless strip of asphalt. Sauser-Monnig captures these scenes with a painter’s eye and delivers them with a novelist’s heart.

There’s no better testament than “Shining Woman,” where Sauser-Monnig portrays a ropy woman navigating her “steel steed” up and down the bends and passes of California’s fabled Highway 1. She openly marvels at that spirit and strength, wishing that for her own life. With Dawnbreaker, she has found it in some measure-the joy of something new, the excitement of risk. Though Sauser-Monnig nearly recorded these songs as barebones folk ballads, she reimagined them with Sanborn and a top-tier crew of North Carolina friends, like fellow Mountain Man singers Amelia Meath and Molly Sarlé, bandleader Phil Cook, and guitarist Ryan Gustafson. These vivid settings highlight the emotional contours of these songs, revealing the complexity that comes with knowing that, in order to live, you sometimes have to let something as strong as love go.

At the start of “Human,” the undeniable climax of Dawnbreaker, Sauser-Monnig wakes up early and finds her lover in bed. She slips out of the room, watches the sun rise alone, and has herself a long think amid nature’s frozen splendor. What does it mean to leave? What does it mean to stay? Is she wrong, and is he right? As the piano rises and her voice multiplies, coming in now from all sides, she admits something crucial to herself: “You can’t will a love to life/But you can do the loving thing: Make like a bird and fly.” It is a moment of reckoning with one’s own liberation, of realizing that sometimes a profound loss is the only way to gain something else. That is the lesson of Dawnbreaker, an intimate document of what it means to set oneself free.

“Poppy folk music so sweetly radiant, it’s essentially a summer sunbeam.” NPR

“Delicate and hazy… Like the fading landscape of a dream just before you wake up, ‘Dawnbreaker’ is at once beautiful and barely there.” Pitchfork

“Ghostly, yet warm… Shimmer and shines like a ray of light.” Stereogum

“Under her new moniker Daughter of Swords, Sauser-Monnig adds noticeable country and lo-fi elements to her sparse, plucked-guitar sound.” Paste Magazine

“On the gorgeous and reflective ‘Dawnbreaker,’ the simplicity of the daily sunrise holds greater implications for the future, with the song carefully balancing between comfort and confession.” UPROXX 

“Gentle, atmospheric” Brooklyn Vegan

“An album of quiet possibility: of open spaces and the open road; of solitude and new beginnings… By keeping her arrangements sparse, Sauser-Monnig’s songs retain a sense of early morning introspection that linger.” Uncut

The Soft Cavalry share ‘Never Be Without You’ video

With the release of their self-titled debut album just over a week away (via Bella Union), The Soft Cavalry (the husband/wife duo of Steve Clarke and Rachel Goswell of Slowdive) have today shared a video for new single “Never Be Without You”, animated by James Bates.

Of the video Clarke comments: “I can’t quite remember how the idea for this one started but as it developed I could sense it was going to turn into something of a love song. I don’t really like writing love songs. I’ll leave that to the masters and the true romantics. All relationships are different and I therefore certainly don’t feel qualified to make blanket statements on the subject.The lyric had to be honest. About the importance of relationships as well as the struggles and responsibilities that are often created by other things in your lives. Rachel’s son Jesse downloaded an app (as he often does) on my phone. A game called Limbo. It’s pretty dark and depicts a little character making his way through a forest, coming up against all kinds of traps and weird creatures. This kind of kick started the idea for the video that James Bates has so brilliantly executed. We didn’t want the creatures to be too scary – hint at the idea of them as something to be concerned about… but equally playful in design.James drew every one of these characters by hand before animating them. A true labour of love.”

So… The Soft Cavalry. What is it? A happy accident? A lovers’ story? A crisis of faith? In reality, it’s all of these. 

For Steve Clarke, The Soft Cavalry’s self-titled debut album is equally a labor of love, and the first record he’s masterminded from start to finish, with invaluable contributions from his wife, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, on co-vocals and spiritual/practical guidance, and Steve’s brother Michael, who produced the record. 

The band’s music is a particularly British brand of intense cinematic drama. Melodic and timeless, the album lands in the atmospheric dimensions between Pink Floyd, Talk Talk and R.E.M. A record radiating midlife crisis but equally enormous elation; a helix of fear and hope, aching for resolution. A record Steve emphasises that he “needed” to make.

The album is also a way of rewriting a man’s narrative, and proof that relative late bloomers (Steve was in his late 30s when he made the album) can make the record of their dreams.

In 2014, Steve was stuck. Divorced since 2011, the intervening three years had been, “a haze,” he admits. Since the late nineties he’d played bass and sung backing vocals in bands (both studio and live) and sessions, while also working as a tour-manager. His new assignees were reformed Home Counties faves Slowdive. 

“I was hungover in the back of my van trying to work out how I was going to fit all the band’s gear into this confined space whilst I still had all of mine from the show that I’d played in London the night before,” he recalls. “The second of two sold-out shows at Hammersmith Apollo with David Brent!”

That was the day Steve was introduced to Rachel. A year later, they were living together in Devon, before marrying in 2018. Rachel not only, “turned my world upside-down,” but unwittingly provided, “the catalyst,” for The Soft Cavalry. “I’d always had ideas but never felt that anything I had to say was worthy of anyone’s attention, let alone my own,” he says. “I wish that I could have done this fifteen years ago but, in reality, I simply couldn’t have. But I’m not one to overly wallow. I’d rather plough the various levels of confusion into songs.”

The Soft Cavalry is equally an exercise in creative and personal therapy. The first songs Steve wrote for the album were less about confusion than Rachel-inspired paeans to fate, love, new beginnings: “Passerby” (“Waters break and we are born restlessly into the arms of this unknown”), with Rachel’s gorgeous lead vocal underlining the arrangement’s Slowdive-adjacent ethereality, and “Spiders” (“strand of woven thread / Could be the start of something beautiful?”), a starker, shivery ballad with a feeling of suspended animation. But as Steve opened up, the past began to seep in; years of frustration, anxiety and confusion. 

If the album has a theme, reckons Steve, “it’s recovery versus new doubt. I’m there, in the middle. The word that kept coming back to me was ‘resilience’. With the right mentality and people around you, especially family, we get through, and find a level of hope.”

The Soft Cavalry became something of a conversation, even couple’s therapy. Steve, says Rachel, “is always writing, his head always full of lyrics.” Rachel, says Steve, “reins me in when I get obsessed. She’s a good editor. She says my songs can still work without sections of words, that leaving spaces is OK.”

As Steve assembled songs, his invited friends – keyboardist Jesse Chandler (Mercury Rev, Midlake), guitarist Tom Livermore, drummer Stuart Wilkinson and multi-instrumentalist/album producer Michael – helped mould the record’s breathtaking sonics. Says Steve, “I’d grown up with guitar bands and I didn’t want it to be overly guitar-y. We evolved things by trying out ideas. We’d build things up, and then strip them back, and build them again.”

As the album progressed, Rachel formed Minor Victories in 2016 while Slowdive had a gap in the schedule, alongside similarly holidaying members of Mogwai and Editors, for a self-titled album that she and Steve contributed vocal melodies and lyrics to: “it got the cogs turning on a writing and lyrical level, and gave me a certain amount of self-belief,” he says.

After he and Rachel finished their album, Steve found a name for it, out of thin air: The Soft Cavalry. “I can’t explain its literal meaning,” he says. “It just made sense.” Might Rachel be the cavalry? “Maybe! It would be subconscious, but that makes sense too, strangely.”

So, this happy accident, lovers’ story, crisis of faith, labor of love and therapy session is set to continue – Steve’s already got the next installment written, titled The Lost Decade. Lost versus found, recovery versus self-doubt, the Soft Cavalry has arrived. 

Just ahead of the album’s release on July 5th, The Soft Cavalry will also make their live debut, with headline shows in London and Manchester.

Creep Show share ‘Safe and Sound’ video + Kincaid remix

Having recently announced news of their first ever UK tour (dates here) in October 2019, Creep Show have today shared a video and remix for “Safe and Sound”, the standout closing track from their debut LP, Mr Dynamite, released last year on Bella Union. Creep Show brings together John Grant with the dark analogue electro of Wrangler (Stephen Mallinder / Phil Winter / Benge). Recorded in Cornwall with a lifetime’s collection of drum machines and synthesisers assembled by Benge and explored by every member of Creep Show, Mr Dynamite conveys real sense of freedom in the shackles-off grooves, channelling the early pioneering spirit of the Sugarhill Gang through wires and random electric noise. 

Of the “Safe and Sound” video, director Dan Conway says: “’Darling, look up to the sky…’ was my initial inspiration, imagining this fella having to venture off into the unknown, separated from his partner, facing the future, come what may. Why not endure this journey in a spinning disco craft, projecting love and positivity out to the universe. Stephen Mallinder had the idea of actually populating the disco ship with four space men to represent the band… Et voila!”

Of the “Safe and Sound” remix Kincaid says: “The original track had this gated rhythmic feel to it that I immediately was drawn to, so when it came to writing the remix I tried to play on the slightly unsettling feeling that gave and make the remix into something a little more sinister.”

Creep Show in Liverpool on te%

Bella Union sign up to Keychange 50/50 Pledge

Bella Union are pleased to be the first independent label to be signed up to the Keychange initiative, as announced yesterday by the PRS Foundation in the press ( The Guardian, Music Week, etc), a pledge to strive for 50-50 gender parity in our industry.

The international initiative – led by PRS Foundation and supported by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union – was launched in 2018 to empower women to transform the future of the music industry.

The Keychange pledge has since seen more than 180 festivals sign up and commit to programming gender balanced line-ups by 2022. Today’s announcement sees the pledge expand to include conservatoires, orchestras, broadcasters, concert halls, agents, labels and any music organisations seeking to achieve a better gender balance in the industry.

Below are some words from Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde with regards to the partnership…

“A few years ago when the Keychange initiative took shape, even though it was focused on festivals, I thought it would be interesting to check myself and my own company. Anyone aware of my own personal music career which to date spans a ridiculous 44 years, can see at a glance the major influence a huge number of great women have had on me. I was thinking of where it started and of course Mum may seem an obvious place but bringing up 4 children with a musician-husband working weeks at a time away from home is a remarkable achievement that I am still in awe of. After that I’d say in my impressionable teens The Slits, Siouxsie, Patti Smith, Tina Weymouth, all blew my mind in various ways, up to the point i joined Cocteau Twins with Elizabeth Fraser and life would never be the same again. Looking at our roster in 2017 as Keychange was launched, more out of curiosity than anything we were pleased to see that without realising it, we already had a clear 50-50 gender split among the artists. A couple of years later and a recent check last week showed a further rise in our artist roster numbers but still a total 50-50 mix. It’s beautiful happy accident of course that we appear to have arrived at this point with such a balance, with no prior thought processes, but this natural blend feels to be the point most note-worthy. If we are to encourage other businesses within our sector to embrace a gender balance, what better way than to show by example that it should be entirely natural and comfortable. In our office we have 2 women and 2 men, our management side is split 50-50 and our vinyl shop staff in Brighton is split 4 women and 4 men. We are proud of our team, and we celebrate our attributes and our differences as things of beauty and positivity. It seems from the inside looking out that while a lot of women enter the label business, not enough are being offered the senior positions and we are still being dominated by a surplus of white middle-aged males. Now I am indeed a white middle -aged male myself but I wholly rely on my wife and management partner Abbey to help US make the right decisions in business, and I fully rely on Anika and Danielle from our UK label office to effectively run over half of the artists’ campaigns. 

Some people will fight any external pressure to re-evaluate their long-established structures because let’s face it, change is slow in this business. Many will do anything to avoid looking at ways of doing things differently. 

Signing up to a commitment to become gender balanced can only be a positive step forward. We have to move past these prejudices about women. I heard one label boss a few years ago say at a conference about a female colleague “She’s great but she’s bound to get pregnant soon and leave us in the lurch”. This attitude needs to be challenged, and if this initiative brings more talented women into our companies then i have no doubt that those companies will be all the richer for it, and ultimately stronger the next challenges have to be to promote more women to management and leadership positions within our companies. For sure, men do have an important role to play in providing the right support in this, but thankfully in the independent sector that i traverse, i can see a younger generation of men understanding these issues and helping in advancing the arguments.”

Introducing Kefaya + Elaha Soroor

Afghan singer Elaha Soroor and award-winning music/producer duo Kefaya (Al MacSween & Giuliano Modarelli) have joined forces for a mighty and mesmerising new album, Songs Of Our Mothers; a fresh, vibrant take on Afghan folk music filtered through myriad forms, from spiritual jazz and dub to Indian classical music and electronica. The album will be released 27th September via Bella Union and is available to preorder here. Additionally, Kefaya + Elaha Soroor have shared a first track titled “Jama Narenji”…

Songs Of Our Mothers is a collection of folk songs traditionally performed by Afghan women, drawing on Elaha’s own experience of fleeing Afghanistan and the struggle faced by many other female artists. The US and Western-backed regimes that came to dominate Afghanistan in the latter part of the 20th century created a climate of heightened patriarchal oppression and persecution of women.

These songs tell stories of joy, pain and resilience, passed from mother to daughter in times of hardship and oppression whilst also celebrating femininity, sensuality and the spirit of resistance. As Elaha says, this album is for “those women around the world whose image has been erased, and whose voice has been forbidden.”

Born in Iran into a family of Afghan-Hazara refugees, and returning to Afghanistan in 2004, Elaha Soroor first rose to fame through the reality TV show Afghan Star. Her rising popularity in a society known for its persecution of female performers combined with her outspoken views on women’s rights led to an environment of serious personal danger and Elaha was eventually forced to flee Afghanistan. 

After arriving in London as a refugee, Elaha was introduced to guitarist Giuliano Modarelli and pianist Al MacSween, founders of award-winning international collective Kefaya. Driven by a shared desire to use music as a tool for political dialogue and action, together they forged the themes, concept and sound of Songs Of Our Mothers

“Our first album was very eclectic with multiple different styles and languages. Although there are still many different musical influences on this album, we liked the idea of collaborating with a specific artist and concept and felt Elaha had something very special to offer both artistically and politically” says Al and Giuliano.

The bulk of the album was arranged and recorded in just a few days in Oxford with long-time Kefaya drummer Joost Hendrickx. Al and Giuliano produced and further developed the album, with contributions from a host of world renowned musicians, including Mohsen Namjoo (voice), Manos Achalinotopolous (clarinet), Yazz Ahmed (flugelhorn), Sarathy Korwar (tabla/dolak),Tamar Osborn (baritone sax), Sardor Mirzakhojaev (dambura), Gurdain Singh Rayatt (tabla), Jyotsna Srikanth (violin), Camilo Tirado (live electronics) and Sam Vickary (double bass).

The international line-up, spanning homelands such as UK, Italy, India, Iran & Greece, reflects the album’s global perspective and the way that Kefaya work in collaboration, drawing on multiple sounds and outlooks to present a united front of spirited musical and political expression.

As Elaha says: “In the eyes of the world, Afghan identity is defined by terrorism, war, the Taliban and uneducated, domesticated women who need help. I have tried to show other associations with Afghanistan such as the beauty of my mother language (Farsi) and the diversity of our music. Although women are currently facing extreme violence in Afghanistan, I see a lot of similar problems encountered in different ways in Western countries and across the world. This is part of a universal struggle.”

Songs Of Our Mothers by Kefaya + Elaha Soroor will be released 27th September via Bella Union and is available to preorder here.