Warmduscher

Warmduscher recently shared Wild Flowers, a brand new track and their first for beloved indie label Bella Union. The first taster from their forthcoming, as yet unannounced, fourth album the track was written and recorded over lock down and is their take on finding solace in the absurdity of now.

The perfect encapsulation of the band’s current direction, coming off as the disjointed rants of a madman ticking off the various indignities of his existence, slathered on top of a spiralling lounge-funk bassline, it may be the most expletive-laden rock song to go to radio in recent memory. The track came about when Clams was tasked with writing lyrics for a song Mr. Salt Fingers had composed, and a pesky bout of writer’s block began to trip him up in the worst way.

“I kept doing that freaking track over and over, trying to do a kind of Talking Heads, ‘Once in a Lifetime’ thing. Then I just got to a point where I was like, ‘Ugh! Fuck this and fuck these motherfuckers!’ I sent the demo to the guys and they were laughing really hard. It’s a blessing and a curse, because if we start laughing, then we know we’re happy with the song. Sometimes it messes me up because people say we’re just jokers or whatever, but it’s like Nah man, we put a lot of work and effort into what we’re doing, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.” Wild Flowers pokes fun at the frustration the entire world felt during 2020, but does so in a way that’s darkly comedic, totally wild, and 100% Warmduscher.

Karen Peris

“I like that it’s possible to re-travel some of the wide open expanse of childhood imagination and wonder. The thing is, I don’t really feel that far away from those places even now, and I’m sure that’s a universal thought. The moments I’m telling about in the songs, and the wonder and the curiosity – I still feel so much of it, just as anyone does. I didn’t want to be an adult saying to a child, This is how you feel. It’s more like saying, just as a person talking with another person, Isn’t this how we all feel, and isn’t that a mystery of life, too, that we are all so connected? So, most of the songs are written in the first person.”

Singer, instrumentalist, and songwriter Karen Peris is talking about the ten compositions on her new album, A Song Is Way Above the Lawn. Written over a period of seven years, these songs make an especially melodic collection of beautifully rendered moments that will resonate with both children and adults. They offer a joy that is often poignant, thanks in part to Peris’ voice and poetry, and to the emotional, sometimes cinematic nature of the piano, central to the album’s sound. Her other instrumentation, chamber-like, with pump organ, accordion, and melodica, along with occasional nylon string and electric guitars, is spacious, allowing room for the listener’s own imagination. With the help of her husband Don Peris, who plays drum kit and upright bass, and their son and daughter, who contribute violin and viola to three songs, she has made a timeless album that has a rare and particular atmosphere of its own.

Journalists and fellow musicians have long written warmly about the singing and songwriting of Karen Peris with her band The Innocence Mission, which she started in high school with Don Peris. Her lyrics have been called ‘profound’ by Sufjan Stevens, and ‘engaging’ by Natalie Merchant; NPR music critic Lars Gotrich has spoken of the ‘supreme detail’ of her poetry. With A Song Is Way Above the Lawn, she has combined music and words with her own illustration, to make a sort of picture book in record album form. Throughout, there is an enormous tenderness expressed, for children and families, for the natural world, and for the miraculousness of everyday life. “You know how, if we take a tiny moment of a day and really look into it, it can sort of widen out and we can see how much it holds – I like thinking about that,” she explains, “and of how it can even be a moment when we’re waiting for something else to happen, that can end up being the most memorable.” The entirety of “This Is a Song in Wintertime” is devoted to a single moment when the narrator is waiting in line, outside with her family, and it begins to snow. “And all the people in line start remarking about the snow and we realize a connectedness,” Karen relates, “and strangers talk to us and there’s this feeling, like we all arrived there together, in a sense.”

A Song Is Way Above the Lawn also reflects a love of reading and public libraries, of walking in the companionship of trees, and of the sense of possibility felt in listening to the first sounds of the day. The latter is the subject of the album’s title song. Animals – elephants, giraffes, lions, birds, and dogs – walk in and out of the album, occasionally appearing as imaginary friends in times of solitude. About “I Would Sing Along”, Karen relates, “I heard a biologist talking this year about elephants. And she said that elephants do a kind of singing, almost subsonically, but if she listened very closely she could hear it”. Much of the album celebrates an attentiveness to the world and to the lives around us, from the luminous opening track, “Superhero”, in praise of the kindness and open-heartedness of kids and of all the people she most admires, to the closing lullaby, “Flowers”.

C Duncan

Born and raised in Glasgow by two classical musicians, C Duncan studied piano and viola before taking up guitar, bass, and drums in his teens, eventually studying music composition at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. His Mercury-nominated debut ‘Architect’ was released in 2015 and after a spell of touring the UK and Europe he returned to his home studio and began work on his Twilight Zone inspired second album ‘The Midnight Sun’ which was released in 2016 and shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year. He supported Elbow on their UK and North American tour which led him to record his third album ‘Health’ at their studio in Salford with Craig Potter, which was released in 2019 and also shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year. Now back in his “new and improved” home studio, Chris has worked on new songs and soundtracks, as well as classical compositions. He is also a keen artist, and paints all his own album artwork.

Commenting on signing C Duncan Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde says: “Since hearing Chris’s debut album Architect in 2015 I have been dying to work with him. We had exchanged quite a few messages over the last few years, and after getting the train up to Glasgow to meet him over a year ago now, I knew it could become a reality. He’s unbelievably talented that’s obvious from his previous work but being involved with him initially via working on this song “Circle” for Lost Horizons and more recently as he works away on his first album for Bella Union, I have been almost speechless at what he’s capable of. Proud that we created this song together and SO thrilled he’s going to come down from Scotland to sing it with us at the Scala this October.”

Laura Groves

Laura Groves is an artist and producer born in West Yorkshire and based in South London. As a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, she explores themes of inner worlds, healing, connection, and imagined environments and real-life surroundings, mixing traditional songwriting with experimental synthesised sounds, textural electronic layering, and a passion for home recording. Following on from her work as Blue Roses on XL Recordings, Laura has released two EPs under her own name on DEEK Records, created with long-time collaborator Bullion: ‘Thinking About Thinking’ (2013) and ‘Committed Language’ (2015). 

Along with her solo work and three-piece band, Nautic, Laura has built a reputation as a sought after collaborator, in both live and recorded settings, for the likes of Darkstar, Wilma Archer, Sampha, Westerman, The Paul Institute, Bat for Lashes, and Hannah Peel. Delving into the art of soundtracks, Laura scored the silent film ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ at the BFI and Latitude Festival, along with creating her own moving image work to accompany her music.   

Laura has been regularly played on BBC6 Music, championed by Guy Garvey, and continuously featured on NTS with both guest slots and performances. She has been featured in The Fader, DUMMY, Dazed, and The Line of Best Fit. Notable performances include Glastonbury, Bestival, Green Man, NTS at Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, along with supporting St Vincent and Wild Beasts. 

A.A. Williams

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 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 a collaboration with Japanese post-rockers MONO, the London-based singer-songwriter signed to Bella Union and released her stunning debut album, Forever Blue, in July 2020.

That Southbank show would prove to be the last time she would take to the stage for a long while as the world struggled to cope with unforeseen and extreme challenges. Never a musician to sit still, the classically trained multi-instrumentalist focused her creativity on arranging – firstly, by stripping songs back to the most delicate bones on her Songs from Isolation covers record, and now with a complete reimagining of her own material as the four songs from her debut EP become arco.

Not many musicians have the ability – or indeed bravery – to rework a collection of their own full band ‘rock’ songs into a string-and-voice arrangement. A.A. Williams, however, is not like many musicians and the minimalism of Arvo Pärt and Gorecki has long since sat beside Vaughan Williams’ folk-inspired classical work as important influences on her music. Indeed, the intention with the EP was for Williams to challenge herself by not retaining guitars and drums, meaning arco had to be truly reimagined with a full string ensemble. As Williams describes it: “The main focus of the arrangements is trying to maintain the authenticity of the original songs that, whilst embodying some of the more familiar elements of the full-band settings, draws focus on the voice.”

Conducting the ensemble of string musicians in the studio, A.A. Williams has evolved her own compositions with new instrumentation and arrangements, encapsulating the singular vision of a unique artist.

Mr Ben And The Bens

After the celestial adventures of Mr Ben and the Bens’ previous issue, band-leader Ben Hall finds all the magic he needs on earth with his new album. On 2019’s Who Knows Jenny Jones?, Hall plotted the story of a young, shy Pitsmoor woman who returned from an alien encounter newly armed with serious disco-dancing know-how. Released through Bella Union on July 10th 2020, Life Drawing looks closer to home – Sheffield and thereabouts – for 12 brightly plaintive, character-driven vignettes, set to warm, acoustic, indie-folk-pop backdrops after its predecessor’s close encounters of the synth-driven kind.

A “cloudy thread of narrative” is present, Hall explains, but this time it’s left open for listeners to map routes through it. “The idea with the title is that the songs are character sketches, and their stories coalesce in a place that has a bit of all the towns in the North of England I’ve lived in. Bits of myself in the stories came out unintentionally, so I’d like it if the listener could find those semi-truths from the songs and place them into their own experiences.”

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.

While these motifs provide consistency, a tremendous sense of DIY musical dynamism is at work elsewhere on Life Drawing, colouring in the fringes and shading the edges. “I spent a lot longer on this album, in fact the longest I’ve spent on any project in my life,” he says. “Hopefully that gravity comes across! I have the curious ability to make and move on way too quickly when making music and art, so hopefully this record’s got a bit more staying power.”

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.

Elsewhere, Metronomy-esque outsider-pop laments (‘Beast in the House’), jaunty pop miniatures (‘Walking to an Open Sky’) and pin-drop-delicate folk-pop lullabies (‘Irish Rain’) emerge with range and empathy, attuned to the earthy hopes, dreams, sorrows and pleasures of their subjects. ‘Closing Time’ sets a writer’s (“In the town, that you write into life on to pages so white”) to a reverberant piano, before ‘Watering Can’ closes the album on notes of brassy uplift. “I go,” sings Hall, drawing forward momentum from the stories he digs up.

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.