A.A. Williams announces ‘Forever Blue’

Making her stage debut in April 2019 and selling out her first headline show at London’s prestigious Southbank Centre less than a year later, A.A. Williams has hit the ground running. Similarly, the acclaim for her performances and her music has been unanimous from the start. After one self-titled EP and the 10” vinyl collaboration Exit in Darkness with Japanese post-rockers MONO, the London-based singer-songwriter today announces the release of her stunning debut album, Forever Blue, out 3rd July via Bella Union and available to preorder here.

To mark the occasion Williams has shared a haunting animated video for lead track “All I Asked For (Was To End It All)” created by Craig Murray. Of the video Williams says: “I’m so pleased to have been able to work with Craig Murray on this video. Before hearing his ideas I had fallen in love with his hand-drawn artwork, so I was delighted when he suggested a video in this style – the musical textures of the song are beautifully complimented by his organic approach and focus on natural elements.”

A rapturous blend of post-rock and post-classical, Forever Blue smoulders with uncoiling melodies and haunted atmospheres, shifting from serenity to explosive drama, often within the same song. Williams is a fantastic musician as well as songwriter, playing the guitar, cello and piano, and her voice has the controlled delivery of a seasoned chanteuse whilst still channelling the rawest of emotions.

Forever Blue is named after a song that didn’t make the album’s final cut, “but it still encapsulated these songs,” Williams explains. “It sounded timeless and in the right place.” The album’s threads encapsulate the anxieties and addiction of love and loss with haunting detail, though Williams admits the theme was shaped more by her subconscious than any grand plan. 

“The lyrics come at the end, they fall into place, rhythmically, and link together,” she explains. “And then it’s my job to decipher what I’ve written! I want the words to get my point across but still let the listener map on their own experiences. I find it really therapeutic.”

Therapy is intrinsic to Williams’ approach: to not just express and unpick her feelings of longing and loss but to work through them. “Verbalising something, you feel a weight has been lifted,” she says. The transition can be mirrored in the dynamic shift from ‘quiet’ to ‘loud’, as on ‘Glimmer’ and arguably at its most euphoric on ‘Melt’. “There’s something very satisfying and elating about songs that have that drop in them, to stomp on the guitar pedal on and let it all out.” 

It’s testament to Williams’ skills, and those of husband and bassist Thomas Williams, thatForever Blue’s commanding sound was largely captured at the couple’s two-bedroom flat in North London. Drums by Geoff Holroyde were added at engineer Adrian Hall’s studio in South London, with guest vocals from Johannes Persson (Cult Of Luna), who adds his deep-trawling growl to ‘Fearless’ (“he sounds like Tectonic plates moving” Williams feels), Fredrik Kihlberg (Cult Of Luna) on ‘Glimmer’ and Tom Fleming (One True Pairing, ex-Wild Beasts) on ‘Dirt’.

Williams can scarcely believe she’s in such exalted company, or that her band has toured with Cult Of Luna, Russian Circles, Explosions In The Sky, Nordic Giants and Sisters Of Mercy, whilst performing with MONO at their 10th anniversary show. It’s not because she doesn’t trust her own worth but that Williams only became a singer-songwriter by chance.

Having taken music lessons from the age of six and been immersed in classical music, Williams’ life was forever changed when she discovered Deftones in her mid-teens, “and after them, all things heavy,” she recalls. “It was music that made me feel included, that tapped into me.”

Yet it was only years later, when she found a guitar in the street with a note attached, “please take me, just needs work,” that Williams started playing guitar, and only started writing songs as a way of learning how to play. “I wrote in different styles to find a sound I was comfortable with,” she says. “Likewise, with singing. I’d never before thought of singing with a microphone in front of other people. It’s been quite a journey.”

That journey was thrown off course by the Coronavirus lockdown, but Williams’ response has been the ‘Songs From Isolation’ video project, solo renditions of songs suggested by her fans. At the time of writing, she has performed Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ (“to take on a song like that, you either have to be brave or dumb, and I thought, let’s be brave!”), Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ and Nick Cave’s ‘Into Your Arms’. 

As ‘Songs From Isolation’ keeps posting intimate messages from a place of solitude, Forever Blue will spread the news of A.A. Williams’ extraordinary talent far and wide – and once lockdown is over, she and her band will be taking the next steps on her journey by touring the record. She’s already come so far but this story is only just beginning. 

Happy Release Day BC Camplight

BC Camplight’s ‘Shortly After Takeoff’, the third instalment of his Manchester trilogy of albums is out now on Bella Union. Read some of the rave reviews below…

“This album is a masterpiece… A marvel, in which currents cut across each other in a half hour or so that roils with anxiety, stuns with beauty and, occasionally, provokes laughter.” The Guardian – 5 stars *****

“Rich in imagery and wonderfully diverse, from power pop to grimy electronica, from piano balladry to funky disco… A singular artist.” The Sun – 4 stars ****

“Electronic pop, icy funk and Eighties rock ensure it doesn’t get too serious, although a jazzy ode to his father called Angelo ends a fun album in heartfelt fashion”. The Times – 4 stars ****

“Heroic… A record of infinite twists… Bible-black humour and brilliantly fractured songs ensure Shortly After Takeoff is a joy.” Uncut – 9/10

“BC Camplight exceeds emotional baggage allowance in style… He’s often very funny, yet the music’s stylistic pitch underlines how destabilised his world has become, I Only Drink When I’m Drunk buffeted by vocoders and Flaming Lips drums, Back To Work plunging from pastoral pop to early techno chill.” MOJO – 4 stars ****

“Adult pop that catalogues self-destruction and interior male ennui with a double-shot of gallows humour. Paranoid, doomy synths temper the classicism of Christinzio’s luxuriant Harry Nilsson songwriting.” Q – 4 stars ****

“Glorious… A deep dive into the swirling emotion following his father’s death that manages to be funny, self-aware, grandiose and satirical. This is sophisticated stuff; Christinzio’s croon reminiscent of Brian Wilson or Harry Nilsson.” Shindig – 5 stars *****

Shortly After Takeoff sounds better than any other BC Camplight record. As he moves through quiet balladry to soaring gameshow synth-pop and crooner rock’n’roll, Christinzio’s vulnerability is always rendered by melodramatic strings and a charmingly lysergic production.” Loud & Quiet – 8/10

“His most intriguing release yet, pitched somewhere between the confessional-mundanity-as-art of Mark Kozalek and John Grant’s transmutation of pain into blissful melodicism.” Metro

“This is an examination of madness and loss,” says Brian Christinzio, the inimitable force behind BC Camplight. “I hope it starts a long overdue conversation.”

Fired by his ongoing battle with mental illness, Shortly After Takeoff is the final, and finest, chapter of what Christinzio calls his “Manchester Trilogy”, following 2015’s “How To Die In The North” and 2018’s “Deportation Blues”. All three albums were created after the native Philadelphian had moved to Manchester. Like Deportation Blues, Shortly After Takeoff spans singer-songwriter classicism, gnarly synth-pop and ‘50s rock’n’roll, with Christinzio’s similarly distinctive, flexible vocal carrying a fearless approach to lyrical introspection, but the new album is a major leap forward in songwriting sophistication and lyrical communication.

“It’s important to stress that this isn’t a redemption story,” he says. “I’m a guy who maybe lives a little hard and I’m in the thick of some heavy stuff. But as a result, I think I’ve made my best record.”

Ezra Furman’s ‘Sex Education OST’ is out now

Following the success of last year’s “Twelve Nudes”, Ezra Furman returns with Sex Education OST, songs from season 1 and 2 of the hit Netflix TV show. The 19-track LP is out today on Bella Union and is available to order here.

When the makers of the hit Netflix series Sex Education told Ezra Furman, “We want you to be the Simon & Garfunkel to our The Graduate”, they clearly recognised a kindred spirit. Who better to articulate all that awkwardness and alienation than Furman?

Sex Education is about Otis Milburn, a socially awkward high school student who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean. In season 1 Otis and his friend Maeve Wiley set-up a sex clinic at school to capitalise on his intuitive talent for sex advice. In season 2, as a late bloomer Otis must master his newly discovered sexual urges in order to progress with his girlfriend Ola whilst also dealing with his now strained relationship with Maeve. Meanwhile, Moordale Secondary is in the throes of a Chlamydia outbreak, highlighting the need for better sex education at the school and new kids come to town who will challenge the status quo.

The Sex Education soundtrack gathers the original songs that Furman composed for the first series and the brand new second series, whilst adding tracks featured on the show that can be found on prior Furman albums such as “Perpetual Motion People” and “Transangelic Exodus”. Lining up alongside older cover versions of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘ I Can Change’ and Melanie’s ‘The Good Book’ is a new rendition of ‘Devil Or Angel’, The Clovers’ doo-wop jewel from 1956. It all adds up to a bumper 19-track set of Furman’s trademark enthusiastic emotional catharsis.

“Making music for a TV show was a new experience for me,” she says. “As a fan of many a high school comedy, for example The Breakfast Club and 10 Things I Hate About You, I knew how fun the music can be, and also how emotional. I wanted to rise to the challenge.”

Furman and her band recorded the new songs in between sessions for a “loud punk record,” namely the exhilarating “Twelve Nudes”, released by Bella Union in 2019. “I decided I’d use the Sex Education project as a place to put my tenderness, my sadness and longing,” she says. “The soft teenage feelings that every adult knows continue long after high school ends.”

For the first series, Furman was supplied with an extensive description of the show and the episode scripts. For the second series, she says, “They trusted us completely. They were like, ‘you know what to do’. I try to imagine what’s going to be on screen as a jumping-off point, but they don’t need songs that fit, they need songs of a high quality, that come from a real place. That’s why they wanted me, I guess. Also, I guess they noticed an exuberant vulnerability. I lay all my feelings out there.”

Given Furman’s personal experience at high school, having been closeted with regard to gender and sexuality, she wasn’t method-acting for a second. The new songs allowed her to reconnect to that past, but also the present, as teenager and adult. ‘Amateur’, for example. “I’m an amateur in my heart, and the show is about amateurs,” she says. “About bodies not yet fully formed, and hearts not yet hardened to the world.”

‘Every Feeling’ was inspired by a bad bout of depression: “I was so bored of having these feelings year after year, I just wanted to feel them all and get them over with.” ‘Care’ is afflicted by, “the noise of celebrity culture and politics.” Why can’t we just have, as Furman sings, “a world of love and care”? “That’s the dream I hang on to,” she says.

Songwriting, Furman concludes, “is a way of keeping tabs on what I care most about, the purest stuff, the matters of the heart that don’t expire. It’s what matters to teenagers, and revisiting the teenage perspective has been oddly centering for me. It’s a reminder of what’s important, and the emotional dramas that persist through life.”

Mr Ben & The Bens share ‘Watering Can’

Having last month announced the release of their new album Life Drawing, available 10th July via Bella Union, and shared a video for lead track ‘Beast In The House’, today Mr Ben and the Bens share a new track titled “Watering Can” from the LP. Of the track bandleader Ben Hall says:“Watering can is a gently-swaying brassy ode to small town life. I took up gardening recently as our band obtained an allotment and I loved the image of a watering can becoming a metaphor for good intentions. Lyrically the track deals with the themes of lost love, claustrophobia and aspirational dreams that somehow never seem to be realised. The song is the finale of the new album and I wanted it to be that very specific combination of uplifting melancholy.”

Additionally, Mr Ben and the Bens have announced news of their rescheduled Spring tour with all the dates moving to September and some new shows being added… Full dates HERE.

Vibrant invitation to start exploring arrives with album opener ‘On the Beach’, where Hall’s tender vocal and dreamy organ provide simpatico companions to a wistful tale of a visit to a beach charged with memories – one of many evocative locales on the album. ‘How Do You Do?’ brings to mind Belle and Sebastian at their dreamiest, while seeding enviro-metaphors – suns and moons, storms and tides, rain and snow, “Whatever the weather may do” – that figure strongly throughout the album’s every-day rhapsodies.

Plenty of melodic sticking power propels the urgent ‘Danny’, where beaches and seas provide backdrops for a character study about someone reaching out for connection. At the opposite extreme, the gorgeous ‘Astral Plane’ is a sweetly psychedelic lament, images of waves and shores lapping gently against the tale of a “barely functioning” character. ‘Faithful Hound’ is a country-sad ballad, ‘Minor Keys’ a retro doo-wop-ish reverie about a character blithely “at sea” and wasting the day away, all set to a waltzing-Wurlitzer melody. 

For Hall, Life Drawing is a rich, rewarding step forward in a still-young career. With the exception of Zac Barfoot on drums, Hall is the sole player on the album’s lovingly layered recordings, his first in “a proper studio – analogue gear, proper piano”. David C Glover and Paul Gregory also contributed as, respectively, producer and mixer at Tesla Studios, while the band’s live line-up is fleshed out by Barfoot, Lauren Paige-Dowling (bass) and Tom Diffenthal (guitar/keyboards). Members of the close-knit Bingo Records community, the bandmates co-habit in Sheffield and moonlight in each other’s bands – “A nice family vibe,” notes Hall.

Since their 2017 emergence, Mr Ben and the Bens’ supporters have included Clash and Marc Riley; in addition, they’ve provided touring support to – among others – British Sea Power. Stretching back to his recording origins in a Lancashire barn circa 2012, Hall’s own musical history ranges from lo-fi acoustic folk to the skewed electronic experiments of Jenny Jones, with influences including Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, English folk music and Belle and Sebastian. “I like how their approach was actually punk but with an emotional sensibility,” says Hall of the latter. “That totally resonates with what I’m trying to do.”

Before Hall tours Life Drawing, a combined launch party and exhibition will take place in Sheffield, in a true DIY spirit. Describing himself as a “self-sustaining artist”, Hall makes his own oil paintings and ceramics, one of which features on the album sleeve. “The cover is a carved slipware plate that I make. It’s a super-old technique, so they look like old museum artefacts that have been unearthed. I like the idea that the archaeology side to the art is a nice metaphor for digging out stories to make into songs.” On Life Drawing, every picture tells a lovingly excavated story, rendered with hand-crafted charm and beauty.

Drab City premiere ‘Troubled Girl’

With their much-anticipated debut album Good Songs For Bad People due for release 12th June via Bella Union, and having previously shared videos for ‘Working For The Men’ and ‘Devil Doll’, today Drab City share a playful video for new track “Troubled Girl”. Sounding a little like the Shangri-Las, perhaps, but only after being sampled by RZA and overlaid with a crushing drum break and the band’s otherworldly embellishments, “Troubled Girl” tells the story of a misunderstood and belittled teen girl’s angst and her dreams of escape. A remarkably fresh take on a classic pop song trope that sounds at once familiar and like nothing else.

A heady air of dislocation envelops Drab City’s debut album, where songs of innocence and experience merge with dub, hip-hop, dream-pop and jazzy soundtrack vibes to intoxicating effect. Drab City are fixated on social alienation, violent revenge, and (perhaps) romantic love as salvation; topics not new in music, but listening to Drab City in 2020, one is struck by how uncommon they’ve become. Lyrically, these songs often project punkish angst and resentment. “Working For the Men” is a degraded service worker’s revenge ballad, imagining male tormenters brought to a violent end. “Hand On My Pocket” tells of a destitute, wandering youth. One night she meets a stranger on a desert road, and is told of a nearby city where a soft, rich citizenry make easy targets. Class war is palpable. Other songs are more opaque, but seem to speak of being the black sheep of the family, or being weighed down by the dullness of hometown life. Yet the casual listener might not notice the violence as the music itself is far from abrasive. Dreamy and ethereal, a foundation of flute, vibraphone, and jazzy guitar chord melody can switch to drum machines or funk-inflected girl-group pop at a moment’s notice. It’s a flurry of 20th century references, combining and recombining at such a schizophrenic pace, the overall effect is something that could only be conjured in our frenzied present. At once catchy and unfamiliar, the melodic, welcoming soundscapes are a Trojan horse for the band’s antisocial outlook.

Modern Nature share ‘Harvest’

Having last month announced their new 7-track mini-album Annual, released 5th June via Bella Union, and shared a video for lead track ‘Flourish’, today Modern Nature share a video for new single “Harvest” which features Kayla Cohen of Itasca on lead vocals. Of the track bandleader Jack Cooper says: “Harvest represents Autumn on the record and centres around rituals and superstitions. A lot of the words and ideas that became the bones of the song were written the days after a vivid experience in Lewes for Bonfire Night.” Of the video he adds: “Lockdown Britain forced us (my wife Tsouni and I) into making our directorial debut and this is the outcome. A moving snapshot of the year through the medium of everyday objects. The record moves from winter through the seasons and back to winter… We end up back where we began… It’s familiar, many of the objects are the same but everything has morphed.”

Released in August 2019, Modern Nature’s debut album – How to Live – crossed the urban and rural into each other. Plaintive cello strains melted into motorik beats. Pastoral field recordings drifted through looping guitar figures. Rising melodies shone with reflective saxophone accents, placing the record somewhere between the subtle mediations of Talk Talk, the stirring folk of Anne Briggs and the atmospheric waves of Harmonia.

The album was met with universal acclaim and featured in a number of publication’s ‘Best Of 2019’ lists. As the group took the album out on the road, Modern Nature became something even more expansive. “It feels like there’s scope and room to grow. I want the group to feel fluid and that whoever’s playing with us can express themselves and interpret what they think this music is” says Jack Cooper.

Their new mini-album Annual, recorded in December 2019 at Gizzard Studio in London, is another step towards something more liberated and a world away from the  sound of Jack Cooper’s previous bands. Will Young sits this one out, concentrating on his work with Beak, but How To Live collaborator Jeff Tobias takes a more central role, alongside percussionist Jim Wallis.