Happy Release Day Psychic Markers

Today the London based psych outfit Psychic Markers release their dreamy new self titled album via Bella Union.

A near death experience being sucked into an active sandstorm during a US road trip is enough to make you think about life. Being immersed in a swirling vortex of sand, dust, tumbleweed and detritus whilst trying to keep control of a speeding car might have only been a brief flash moment in Steven Dove’s life but it was enough for the Psychic Markers man to question life. “These things impact you,” he says. “I got thinking about human nature, our proneness to mistakes, imperfection and the implications of reactionary decision making.”

The results of such lyrical reflection, and broad spectrum of thought, can be heard throughout the latest Psychic Markers album, one that Dove describes as, “Imagine a David Cronenberg-style movie in which each morning you awake to find your brain merged inside someone else’s head – you see life from a totally different angle.”

Approaching things from a different angle was also the objective sonically. “We wanted to make an album that was 100% us,” says Leon Dufficy, who heads up the band with Dove. “With zero dilution from other influences.” This natural, intuition-led, direction is something immediately apparent on the album, one that weaves seamlessly between pulsing groove-locked electronica and psychedelic pop as frequently as it glides from sparkling melody to rich cinematic ambience.

“Cohesive yet diverse,” is what the band have said of their music and it fits their personalities too, with members coming from as far afield as Australia and Yorkshire. Dufficy and Dove wrote and produced the record together, the sultry yet subtle bass comes from Luke Jarvis, who also did the band’s artwork, whilst the glowing backing vocals of Alannah Ashworth feature alongside the shared percussion duties of Lewis Baker and Jim Wallis.

The opening track ‘Where Is the Prize?’ is a perfect opener that encapsulates Dove’s introspective yet existential lyricism, as well as the band’s expanded sonic terrain. It’s written from the perspective of an old person who sees friends die off until only they remain. “We strive for old age but what’s even there if you make it?” asks Dove. Musically, it opens with gently lapping waves of electronics that sets the tone for a more electronically-leaning record.

A total electronic overhaul this is not, however. Instead, their third album sits in a sweet spot between evolutionary and revolutionary step; retaining the core essence and personality of the band but also moving into new territory. It embellishes and emboldens the band’s pre-existing palate, one that still nods to 1970s Germany on the careering ‘Clouds’ (a song that, antithetical to the opener, looks at life from the perspective of a child) and one that still exhibits their seamless knack for immersive melody via the gorgeous Yo La Tengo-like closer ‘Baby It’s Time.’

Amidst the engulfing soundscapes of ‘Juno Dreams’ is a sample of an old Texan psychic that cannot foresee a future for its subject, whilst the serene-to-nightmare psychedelic noise trip that is ‘Sacred Geometry’ is a direct exploration of the moment Dove was caught in the sandstorm. “The track is that nanosecond you have to make an important decision – the second part of it being the knock-on effect of making the wrong one.”

Playing with structure and form, and the overlapping role between lyrics and music, is rooted in the album. “I was tired of writing within the constraints of a verse/chorus structure and wanted to be expressive in alternative ways,” says Dove. “It’s like walking the same route to get from a to b – eventually it becomes mundane and for this record I wanted to try walking a different way.”

Dufficy also found himself going down a rabbit hole of old gear for the album, exploring four tracks, micro cassettes and drum machines. “I wanted to see how it would impact our writing and recording process,” he says. “By taking away the endless options you have in the digital world.” The result is one that adds to the already deeply textural world of the band – an approach that has previously reared its head via doo-wop-esque harmony vocals, thoughtfully layered immersive guitars or enveloping atmospheres – as well as adding a further sense of diving into the unknown.

The dodgy motors of the four-track led to drums and keys being all over the place on the track ‘Enveloping Cycles’, creating its own woozy, distinct rhythm of gently fizzing beats. That is before the machine gave up completely. “The four-track died right at the end of making the album, so its quirks will only ever exist on this album,” Dufficy says. “I like that, it’s kind of romantic to me.”

Drab City share ‘Live Free and Die When It’s Cool’

Recently described by MOJO magazine as “The new king and queen of fever-dream-pop”, and with the release of their much-anticipated debut album Good Songs For Bad People just over a fortnight away on 12th June, Drab City have today shared a new track, “Live Free and Die When It’s Cool”. A feral youth arrives in rags to the city of gold where he watches soft, fashionably dressed people discuss art over locally sourced meals and reflects on his traumatic past. Musically, the track welds dub, 70s rock, and hip hop drum breaks to a third hand AMPEX tape deck found in a dump on the city outskirts.

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.

One night fated to be slept

on the streets of Drab City

turns out lasts entire generations

We both drop dead

hungry each night

under foreign stars

Hair matted and mashed into the sidewalk glue

grime, spit, snot, olive pits, ashes, spoiled cream

We sleep huddled in the thinnest linens and dream

startlingly beautiful stuff

like ships with eight sails

and fifty canons mooring at the quay

or even just Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

When the landlord pays a visit he arrives

cheerful and singing in a flute like voice

an underdeveloped, simple and predictable tune

He wears boots like Robin Leach

And at the back of the skull

Wakes us with a kick

Then we’re off and away digging

other people’s ditches all day

We’re staring out the big window

in thisTurkish bakery

on the dirty boulevard

after sunset

blank, silent

and sucking the last of the grounds

Probably everyone around here wants us to die

Our feelings are unfashionable

Creative little groups of artists and influencers pass

carrying uniquely scented wallets

Everybody’s got nice stuff but me

I want a stereo I want a TV

Well I guess that’s everything

Avoid the authorities, live free, then die when it’s cool

Sincerely,

Drab City

Liela Moss announces ‘Who The Power’

Liela Moss has announced news of her new solo album Who The Power, released 7th August via Bella Union and available to pre-order here. To mark the occasion Moss has shared a video for lead track “Atoms At Me”, directed and filmed by her neighbour, and IYEARA singer, Paul O’Keeffe. Of the video Moss says: “I am dancing with the walls and grooving in the recesses. Preparing – but hesitating – to reveal more of myself. The visual quality softly distorts and abstracts me, hinting at the way we keep old emotional patterns at bay; a bit too afraid to bring them to surface, to witness your needs and fears with clarity.”

“If you’re going to deconstruct the modern psyche,” says Liela Moss, “you might as well dance to it.” On her second solo album, Who the Power, Moss fulfils that remit with all the power its title calls for. After 2018’s deeply personal My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth – a debut solo album at times serene, at others stormy, on every front sumptuous – Moss entered a period of profound creative and personal self-reflection. When she emerged, she forged an album of questioning intensity and synth-loaded drama, with the expressive force in her voice refuelled by the urgent desire to interrogate the role of selfhood in fraught times. And, crucially, backed by the urgent grooves needed for the job.

As Moss says of her feelings during the build-up to the album: “To make music for the sake can sometimes feel like a narcissistic thing to do, and very reflective of our times. So much of being a musician and live performer is about projecting energy outward, which can be a beautiful and powerful thing. I experienced a good round of that over previous years, and now wanted to explore my fears of tipping the scales the other way: why should I continue to re-enact the narcissistic habits of our generation, desperate for validation, desperate for space, for ‘a platform’?”

With Moss’ new life as a parent at a time of ecological and political upheaval also very much in mind, she entered a period of “hardcore self-enquiry” that included a return to a 10-day stay at a silent Vipassana Meditation centre. Determined to avoid “content for content’s sake”, Moss’ intent was to cleanse her palate and anatomise her motivations to make music. “Fucking about with some demos to justify my existence,” she says, “was not an option.”

Duly, evidence of “fucking about” is notable only by its absence on album opener “Turn Your Back Around”, a yearning eco-lament set to banked synths over a propulsive beat. Or, as Moss puts it: “One filthy, upbeat, downhearted, close-your-eyes-and-dance-by-yourself pop song, offered as a parting gift to Mother Earth.” “Watching the Wolf” is another forthright song for today, its brooding, near-gothic swagger framing a righteous modern-day folk tale about wolves converging to unseat a toxic political pundit. A controlled rage shows in Moss’s voice, which grows more liberated still amid the simmering darkwave throb of “Atoms at Me”, where Moss issues a call to free the senses from the call to consume. 

That sense of freedom further shows in the album’s dynamic focus and passion. The near-ceremonial “Always Sliding” draws power from the idea of impermanence, from the call to “keep searching”. “The Individual” sets a Paradise Lost-ish narrative to a sulphurous bass-line and lunging synths, while the graceful synths and infectious melody of “White Feather” frame lyrics with teeth. “‘White Feather’ is a lament for the earth, sung with fingers crossed behind my back,” explains Moss. “Humanity is losing connection with something vital, and willingly letting itself slip into an abyss. This isn’t as simple as my reaction to the distressing reality of environmental damage; it is my thoughts on our lousy behaviour to one another.” 

Elsewhere, the moody elegance of “Battlefield” and bruised plea of “Nummah” rank among Moss’s finest vocal performances – tall praise. “Suako” offers pulsing synth-rock impetus to risk starting anew, while the blissful “Stolen Careful” ends the album on a palpable note of revitalisation, all risks rewarded as Moss emerges refreshed in her hunger to explore new, meaningful ways to engage with the world.

As with the widely acclaimed My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth, that engagement took place close to home. Working again with partner/producer Toby Butler, Moss wrote and recorded the album in their studio in Somerset, where they live with their child. The difference this time, she explains, was a desire “to create something more urgent”, which captured a sense of renewal while conveying a strong sense of despair at modern culture. “Perhaps that oscillating energy is best expressed musically via machines. We spent much of our time playing with vintage synths and drum machines, building a more visceral palette. I wanted the album to convey a depth of field, to be multi-layered yet feel simple, and to groove.”

Widescreen ambitions fulfilled, the result is another bold leap forwards for one of alt-rock’s most magnetic, exploratory voices. Over 14 years, Moss’s work with the Duke Spirit (on pause) ranged from brawling riff-rock to more cinematic ventures. Other gigs have included synth-rock recordings with Butler under the name Roman Remains and various collaborative ventures – with UNKLE, Nick Cave, Giorgio Moroder and Lost Horizons, as well as serving as muse for fashion icons Alexander McQueen and Phillip Lim, among others.

If My Name Is Safe in Your Mouth offered a haunting snapshot of Moss’ restlessly intuitive instincts, Who the Power repurposes and refuels those instincts, standing as fertile testament to the potential in Moss’ self-possessed yet receptive way of working. As she puts it, “My offering is only mine. It lacks ubiquity. Crucially, it doesn’t seek to rob from others. In actual fact it only has to feed three mouths, under the shelter they need, and provide enough time to nourish their minds so that they can in turn be in the productive service of others. It doesn’t need to win to succeed. Just to be understood for what it is, is enough.” Now that’s a beautiful and powerful thing, indeed.

Happy Release Day Tim Burgess

Today Tim Burgess releases his new album ‘I Love The New Sky’ to much critical acclaim. How inspiring it is to hear Tim Burgess conjuring up exciting and life-affirming sounds as he, almost inconceivably, enters his fifth decade on public duty. Frontman, singer, label boss, DJ and author, he’s been instrumental in so many great records over the years, always bringing enthusiasm, positivity and diversity of influence, which altogether light the way for those who hold him dear.

While in The Charlatans, Tim’s indefatigable energy has been a consistent fuel for the band across thirteen high-charting albums, his solo adventure has been no less extraordinary, scaling new heights in 2020 with his fifth solo release to date: ‘I Love The New Sky’. Released via Bella Union, it features wonderfully connective songs of everyday minutiae and universal experience, of love and anger, of loss and belonging, all united by elaborate yet natural arrangements and an effortless way with melody.

The twelve tunes of ‘I Love The New Sky’ were authored, he says, “in Norfolk, in the middle of the countryside, with the nearest shop eight miles away. There are no distractions, and I guess that way things happen. I wrote everything on acoustic guitar, and the chords were really considered. The guitar lines would lead the melody, and the melody would inform the lyrics – just dreaming away with music.”

So far, so Laurel Canyon, though ‘I Love The New Sky’ would end up sounding anything but hippie/folkie, thanks to a connection Tim made while living in a warehouse space in gritty Seven Sisters in North London, before heading to Norfolk. “The Quietus had their office there,” he recalls. “I used to know pretty much all the stuff they were writing about, but then their album of the year for 2013 was ‘Glynnaestra’ by Grumbling Fur, and I really fell in love with it. I started talking to the band about working together. To cut a long story short I recorded a song with Grumbling Fur, they remixed two Charlatans tracks and a couple of Daniel O’Sullivan’s solo albums came out on my label.”

As well as arranging and production duties on I Love The New Sky, O’Sullivan plays bass, drums and piano, from the bouncing chamber-pop chords of ‘Sweetheart Mercury’ and the punchy chorus of ‘Empathy For The Devil’, through to ‘Comme D’Habitude’’s juxtaposition of blissfully rolling West Coast singer-songwriting and a complex Sparks-y Broadway-esque bridge, to the Velvets-y ramalama moves on ‘Warhol Me’ and ‘Undertow’’s sombre balladry.

The album was arranged and recorded quickly but not rushed: “Ideas happen fast, don’t they?” Tim reasons. The first sessions at Eve Studios in Stockport were with long-serving Charlatans engineer Jim Spencer. Tim, Daniel and Nik Void cut three tracks in two days, with Nik layering up modular synths in line with her previous day job in Factory Floor.

The results are nothing short of astounding. ‘I Love The New Sky’ has landed somewhere between Paul McCartney’s ‘RAM’ and Brian Eno’s ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’ and certainly that recipe covers both the all-pervasive tunefulness and high quality. Stylistically, though, it runs the widest gamut, from ‘Empathy For The Devil’s gospel style rockabilly skip, through to the sophisticated song-craft of ‘Sweetheart Mercury’ and the Nilsson-esque ‘Sweet Old Sorry Me’, with the angst-y gravitas of ‘Undertow’, which Tim describes as “a mood-changer, influenced by 10cc.”

The final stages of the album’s year-long narrative arc were enacted at Jet Studio in Brussels, with the Echo Collective string section. Burgess looked on “mesmerised at what was happening to the songs, taking an even more magical turn.”

With that icing on the cake, Tim is in no doubt that he has his finest solo record under his belt. He’ll be touring the album with a live ensemble featuring Daniel O’Sullivan, Thighpaulsandra, another O Genesis artiste called Keel Her, and renowned avant-jazz violinist Peter Broderick, who plays on ‘’Empathy…’ and will recreate the Echo Collective parts, too. So, the community will grow. Just like Tim says, “the future is friendly.”

A.A. Williams shares ‘Melt’

With her much-anticipated debut album Forever Blue due for release 3rd July via Bella Union, and having recently shared videos for ‘All I Asked For (Was To End It All)’ and a stunning cover version of the Deftones track ‘Be Quiet And Drive’ from her ‘Songs From Isolation’ video project, today A.A. Williams shares a video to the track “Melt”, directed by Steve Turvey. Of the track Williams says: “Melt addresses an individual’s search for, acknowledgement of and acceptance of independence. After only believing in their own fragility they come to realise that they themselves were never dependant on others, others depended on them. Within this newfound strength they find comfort.”

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 has signed to Bella Union and made a stunning debut album, Forever Blue.

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.

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 including Radiohead’s ‘Creep’, Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’, Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Every Day Is Exactly The Same’ 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. Forever Blue artwork below…

John Grant reschedules tour for 2021

Currently at work on a new studio album due for release next year, John Grant has announced news of his rescheduled UK and Ireland tour dates, with the shows moving to March and May 2021. All tickets for his previously scheduled 2020 shows are valid as before. News regarding the rescheduled Edinburgh show will follow soon. Dates/info below: