Happy Release Day Pom Poko

“If you have a vacancy for Favourite New Band, Pom Poko would like to apply for the role,” tweeted Tim Burgess in April last year, as Norway’s finest punk-pop anti-conformists revisited their joyous debut album, Birthday, for one of Tim’s mood-lifting Twitter listening parties. Pom Poko pimp their CV on all fronts with their glorious second album, Cheater, out early today. Between the quartet’s sweet melodies, galvanic punky ructions and wild-at-art-rock eruptions, Cheater is the sound of a band celebrating the binding extremes that make them so uniquely qualified to thrill: and, like Tim’s listening party, to fulfil any need you might have for a pick-you-up. 

As singer Ragnhild Fangel explains of the leap from Birthday to Cheater, “I think it’s very accurate to say that we wanted to embrace our extremes a bit more. In the production process I think we aimed more for some sort of contrast between the meticulously written and arranged songs and a more chaotic execution and recording, but also let ourselves explore the less frantic parts of the Pom Poko universe. I think both in the more extreme and painful way, and in the sweet and lovely way, this album is kind of amplified.” 

Both sonically and thematically, that sense of amplification asserts itself right off the bat with the tearaway title-track. Bursting into life on the back of a blast of fractious guitar noise, a thrashing riff and a sweetly sardonic vocal, “Cheater” laces its serotonin rush with tangy lyrics about dreams and, says Ragnhild, the kind of “cheating kid who doesn’t understand why they didn’t get things exactly like they wanted on their first try”: thematic motifs that reverberate throughout the album. 

From here, Pom Poko court their extremes with firecracker confidence. Its lilting melody laced with a critique of gender stereotypes and set to a Breeders-style lurch, “Like A Lady” is sharp and catchy. First single “Andrew” upholds a facility for simplicity in one of Pom Poko’s loveliest choruses, though a band such as this will never settle for the obvious: Martin Miguel Tonne’s jazzy guitars seem to do everything except what you expect them to.  

Further evidence arrives in the contrast between the thrilling, think-on-its-feet thrash-pop of “My Candidacy” – made in less than three hours – and the mellifluous “Danger Baby”, a tale of irrational fears with Ragnhild’s vocal and Martin’s guitar merged in unexpected union. That love for surprise synchronicities, slanted sounds and unexpected subject matter propels “Andy Go to School”, where a tempo-tweaked guitar line accompanies a lyric extolling the pleasures of water parks and a free-flowing sonic palette. “Towards the end one of the guitar pedals made a huge BZZZ sound in a pause, but we thought it was cool and raw so we just rolled with it,” says Ragnhild. “We like to mix the feeling of a surgically produced piece of music with the random sounds that also happen when you are a band playing together.” 

After its opening, almost Bolan-esque belches of guitar, “Look” extends that spirit of openness to an invitation to look outside of one’s self, before “Body Level” ends the album on a characteristically generous, unguarded – amplified – note of positivity. “Things get better,” sings Fangel, embracing directness with the same readiness as Pom Poko exult in giddy intricacy. 

The sound of four distinct personalities driving in divergent directions towards one destination, the result is an evolved snapshot of the bracingly contrary chemistry forged when Fangel, Tonne, Jonas Krøvel (bass) and Ola Djupvik (drums) united to play punk during a jazz gig at a literature festival in Trondheim (the band-members studied jazz there.)Taking their name and spirit from Japanese animation visionaries Studio Ghibli’s marvellously out-there film about raccoon-dog rebels with unfeasibly large testicles, Pom Poko showcased that convulsive individuality to exuberant effect on 2019’s Birthday. Along the way, they drew praise from NME, DIY, PopMatters, The Line Of Best Fit, The Independent and BBC Radio 6 Music, while going on to be nominated for two Norwegian Grammy Awards (Spellemannprisen) and The Nordic Music Prize. Meanwhile, a huge touring schedule included countless sold-out headline shows and a rapturously received UK jaunt with Ezra Furman. 

Written in the same run that produced interim releases “Leg Day” (with its playful dance-based video) and “Praise”, and recorded/produced in cooperation with Marcus Forsgren (Jaga Jazzist, Broen, Arc Iris), Cheater does its predecessor proud on every front. Bursting with colour and wonky life from its cover art (by close collaborator Erlend Peder Kvam) outwards, it differs from Birthday primarily in that its songs did not have a chance to be road-tested before going into the studio. But you wouldn’t know it. As Ragnhild explains, “That meant we had to practice the songs in a more serious way, but it also meant the songs had more potential to change when we recorded them since we didn’t have such a clear image of what each song should/could be as the last time.”  

In other words, consider that vacancy for free-thinking punk-pop adventurism in your life filled. Right, Tim? 

John Grant debuts ‘The Only Baby’

John Grant has shared a new track via his socials this morning titled “The Only Baby”. He called upon his old friend Casey Raymond to quickly assemble a lyric video + below is a note John has shared about it…

Hello all you Dear Ones, 

I’ve been so disturbed to see how things are progressing in the U.S. and the world, I wanted to share this song which I wrote and recorded last summer. Seems like a good time. I feel so much rage and yes, hatred towards the gaslighters, the bullies, the narcissists, the sociopaths and psychopaths, the Christian Fascist Right and of course T**** and all those who enable him and continue to do so all in the name of Jesus and/or Hitler. I know I have to figure out a way to stay calm and continue to resist the onslaught of lies without being dissolved from the inside out by my own rage and the hatred I feel towards these people who scream at the top of their lungs that we do not hear what we hear or see what we see. 

Yes, I’ve heard of Yoga, I’ll look into it. 

Much love, JG

A.A. Williams covers The Moody Blues

With her new album of cover versions Songs From Isolation due out 19th March via Bella Union, A.A. Williams has today shared another new track from the LP. “Nights In White Satin” is a beautiful piano and vocal reimagining of The Moody Blues classic from 1967 which serves to showcase Williams’ unique vocal talents. Of the track Williams says: “I’ve always been drawn to the vintage textures and beautiful melodies of Nights In White Satin. A simple cover for solo piano and voice, this version focuses a little more on extended harmonic suspensions and on the text, a heartfelt reinterpretation of a 60s classic.”

The Songs From Isolation project began at the beginning of the UK’s nationwide lockdown in March. A.A. Williams took songs suggested by fans and created a series of videos presenting the tracks with stripped-down instrumentation, recorded and filmed from her home in North London. The album represents a continuation of the project into a full collection of recordings and features cover versions of The Cure, Pixies, Deftones, Nick Cave, Gordon Lightfoot, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and more. Williams has previously shared cover versions of Deftones’ ‘Be Quiet And Drive’‘Lovesong’ by The Cure, ‘Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans’ by The Smashing Pumpkins and The Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind’ from the album.

Critical acclaim for Forever Blue, A.A. Williams’ July-released debut album:

“Williams moves with ease between singer-songwriter territory and post-metal heaviness… Forever Blue is a remarkable accomplishment, confirming that Williams has already built a world of her own.”

MOJO – 4 stars ****

“Revelatory… Minimalist singer-songwriter material blending with elements of classical, metal and post-rock to make a distinctive whole.” The Observer (One To Watch)

“Darkly beguiling… A.A. Williams’ songs maintain an eerie delicacy whether she chooses a setting that’s spare, ornate or pulverising… The shifts between moments of high drama and quiet tension point to her kinship with Chelsea Wolfe and PJ Harvey.” Uncut

“blending moments of introspection with soaring post-rock crescendos and classical elements, this is a compelling debut throughout.” Q – 4 stars ****

“An impressively confident sound-world… cinematic and majestic.” Financial Times

“Beautifully meditative… music that hypnotises… An impressive debut.” PROG

“A masterful work of melancholy and bruised beauty… One of the most wonderful new British artists of recent years.” Planet Rock – 5 stars *****

“Stirring and evocative… We’re only halfway through 2020 but the chances of a more heartrending and fully formed debut emerging this year are practically zero.” Metal Hammer – 9/10

“Enduring the emotional abyss with breathtaking grace and grit on her debut album; A.A. Williams’ Forever Blue is a record that reveals more of its sublime poetry each time it’s listened to.” The Line Of Best Fit – 9/10

“A stunning eight track debut… Her vocals are stirring and emotive, while conveying raw emotion that perfectly encapsulates the anxieties and addictions of love and loss… Just sublime.” Clash – 8/10

A concise yet profound debut album that displays incredible craft both lyrically and dynamically.” Secret Meeting – 8.5/10

“A debut of richness, depth and genuinely shattering emotional engagement – pure melancholic majesty to lose yourself in.” Beats Per Minute – 8.2/10

Pom Poko announce 2021 tour

With their new album Cheater due for release 15th January via Bella Union, which includes the tracks ‘Andrew’‘My Candidacy’ and ‘Like A Lady’, Pom Poko have announced news of an extensive UK and European tour for September and October 2021. The tour includes their biggest London headline show to date with a performance at Village Underground.

“If you have a vacancy for Favourite New Band, Pom Poko would like to apply for the role,” tweeted Tim Burgess in April last year, as Norway’s finest punk-pop anti-conformists revisited their joyous debut album, Birthday, for one of Tim’s mood-lifting Twitter listening parties. Pom Poko pimp their CV on all fronts with their glorious second album, Cheater, out early 2021. Between the quartet’s sweet melodies, galvanic punky ructions and wild-at-art-rock eruptions, Cheater is the sound of a band celebrating the binding extremes that make them so uniquely qualified to thrill: and, like Tim’s listening party, to fulfil any need you might have for a pick-you-up. 

As singer Ragnhild Fangel explains of the leap from Birthday to Cheater, “I think it’s very accurate to say that we wanted to embrace our extremes a bit more. In the production process I think we aimed more for some sort of contrast between the meticulously written and arranged songs and a more chaotic execution and recording, but also let ourselves explore the less frantic parts of the Pom Poko universe. I think both in the more extreme and painful way, and in the sweet and lovely way, this album is kind of amplified.” 

Both sonically and thematically, that sense of amplification asserts itself right off the bat with the tearaway title-track. Bursting into life on the back of a blast of fractious guitar noise, a thrashing riff and a sweetly sardonic vocal, “Cheater” laces its serotonin rush with tangy lyrics about dreams and, says Ragnhild, the kind of “cheating kid who doesn’t understand why they didn’t get things exactly like they wanted on their first try”: thematic motifs that reverberate throughout the album. 

From here, Pom Poko court their extremes with firecracker confidence. Its lilting melody laced with a critique of gender stereotypes and set to a Breeders-style lurch, “Like A Lady” is sharp and catchy. First single “Andrew” upholds a facility for simplicity in one of Pom Poko’s loveliest choruses, though a band such as this will never settle for the obvious: Martin Miguel Tonne’s jazzy guitars seem to do everything except what you expect them to.  

Further evidence arrives in the contrast between the thrilling, think-on-its-feet thrash-pop of “My Candidacy” – made in less than three hours – and the mellifluous “Danger Baby”, a tale of irrational fears with Ragnhild’s vocal and Martin’s guitar merged in unexpected union. That love for surprise synchronicities, slanted sounds and unexpected subject matter propels “Andy Go to School”, where a tempo-tweaked guitar line accompanies a lyric extolling the pleasures of water parks and a free-flowing sonic palette. “Towards the end one of the guitar pedals made a huge BZZZ sound in a pause, but we thought it was cool and raw so we just rolled with it,” says Ragnhild. “We like to mix the feeling of a surgically produced piece of music with the random sounds that also happen when you are a band playing together.” 

After its opening, almost Bolan-esque belches of guitar, “Look” extends that spirit of openness to an invitation to look outside of one’s self, before “Body Level” ends the album on a characteristically generous, unguarded – amplified – note of positivity. “Things get better,” sings Fangel, embracing directness with the same readiness as Pom Poko exult in giddy intricacy. 

The sound of four distinct personalities driving in divergent directions towards one destination, the result is an evolved snapshot of the bracingly contrary chemistry forged when Fangel, Tonne, Jonas Krøvel (bass) and Ola Djupvik (drums) united to play punk during a jazz gig at a literature festival in Trondheim (the band-members studied jazz there.)Taking their name and spirit from Japanese animation visionaries Studio Ghibli’s marvellously out-there film about raccoon-dog rebels with unfeasibly large testicles, Pom Poko showcased that convulsive individuality to exuberant effect on 2019’s Birthday. Along the way, they drew praise from NME, DIY, PopMatters, The Line Of Best Fit, The Independent and BBC Radio 6 Music, while going on to be nominated for two Norwegian Grammy Awards (Spellemannprisen) and The Nordic Music Prize. Meanwhile, a huge touring schedule included countless sold-out headline shows and a rapturously received UK jaunt with Ezra Furman. 

Written in the same run that produced interim releases “Leg Day” (with its playful dance-based video) and “Praise”, and recorded/produced in cooperation with Marcus Forsgren (Jaga Jazzist, Broen, Arc Iris), Cheater does its predecessor proud on every front. Bursting with colour and wonky life from its cover art (by close collaborator Erlend Peder Kvam) outwards, it differs from Birthday primarily in that its songs did not have a chance to be road-tested before going into the studio. But you wouldn’t know it. As Ragnhild explains, “That meant we had to practice the songs in a more serious way, but it also meant the songs had more potential to change when we recorded them since we didn’t have such a clear image of what each song should/could be as the last time.”  

In other words, consider that vacancy for free-thinking punk-pop adventurism in your life filled. Right, Tim? 

Lost Horizons & Ural Thomas share ‘In Quiet Moments’

With their new album In Quiet Moments due for release 26th February via Bella Union, Lost Horizons today share a video for the title track of the LP which features Ural Thomas on vocals. Ural Thomas was born in Louisiana in 1939, learning to sing in church. The seventh of sixteen children, his family relocated to Portland, Oregon when he was a young child. Thomas became a professional singer as a young man in the 1950s, with over forty performances at the Apollo Theatre in Manhattan, New York. He worked with or opened for musicians such as Etta James, Otis Redding, James Brown and Stevie Wonder. Thomas moved back to Portland in 1968. After this not much is known, until the early 2010s when Scott Magee, a Portland-based soul DJ, learned via the owner of Mississippi Records that Thomas – whose early records he spun – still lived in Portland. Despite having weekly jam sessions in his home, a tradition started in the 1970s, Thomas seldom played live shows. Together, Thomas and Magee created Ural Thomas and the Pain, an eight-piece backing band for Thomas’s vocals. The group has released two full length albums: 2016’s self-titled release and 2018’s “The Right Time”. 

Of the track Ural Thomas says: “When I first heard the song, I thought it was such a wonderful thing, both open and calm, with that steady, insistent groove. The chords go from looming to embracing then back again, like a sad, friendly giant. It took a quiet moment to go over it in my mind and then we were off and running with the tune. At times I feel strong and one with the world.  At other times I feel tiny and solitary.  In a way they’re two parts of the same feeling. That sense of being closed in and defined by walls became more real just a short while after we worked on the song.  But we’re all those other things, too—connected, hopeful, with a long arc that will go beyond this time.” 

Simon Raymonde of Lost Horizons adds: “Sometimes you just have a clear vision for a song and then try as you might, it doesn’t quite hit the mark and other times, you’re not quite sure where it’s going and then all of sudden it’s like The Matrix and you’re buzzing! I’d been talking to Ural and his team since I heard about him earlier that year, and they were all working on a new Ural Thomas and The Pain album, but just as I finished the bass part on our piece, which Richie had started at a session in London, my inner voice was screaming “ASK URAL TO SING!” Scott and Brent who are his producers and write with Ural and in his band too, responded very positively to my enquiry and said Ural was into it, and it looked like they could do it all at their studio in Portland AND film him at the same time as they were making a documentary about him! I couldn’t believe my luck. After he was done with the first half of the song I asked if he could make the ending spoken-word in the style of Gil Scott-Heron and he did something ad-libbed which I loved. I then asked Wendi Rose who sings with Spiritualized to add some of her beautiful vocals and I think this took it all to the next level. Paul Gregory and Jonathan Wilson also played some delicious guitar parts which were the fairy dust on top!” 

In Quiet Moments features a stellar array of musical guests including John Grant, C Duncan, Marissa Nadler, Penelope Isles, Karen Peris (the innocence mission), Tim Smith (Midlake), Ren Harvieu and many more. The 16-track album will be released in two sections. The first half (8 tracks) was released digitally 4th December with the second half and physical release following on 26th February 2021. 

In 2017, Simon Raymonde and Richie Thomas had both abstained from making music for 20 years until they united as Lost Horizons and released a stunning debut album, Ojalá – the Spanish word for “hopefully” or “God willing.”

“These days, we need hope more than ever, for a better world.” Thomas said at the time. “And this album has given me a lot of hope. To reconnect with music…. And the hope for another Lost Horizons record!” 

Thomas’ hopes had a mixed response. On the plus side, the new Lost Horizons album In Quiet Moments is an even stronger successor to Ojalá with another distinguished cast of guest singers and a handful of supporting instrumentalists embellishing the core duo’s gorgeously free-flowing and loose-limbed blueprint that one writer astutely labelled, “melancholy-delia.” 

On the minus side, any hope for a better world, as Earth continues to freefall toward political and social meltdown. Then, to make matters worse, as Raymonde and Thomas buckled down to create the improvised bedrock that Lost Horizons is built on, the former’s mother died. At least Raymonde had a way to channel his grief. “The way improvisation works,” he says, “it’s just what’s going on with your body at the time, to let it out.”

In Quiet Moments has its pockets of loss but – aligned to the concept of ‘hope’ – the album is more about rebirth than death. “I think it’s more joyous than Ojalá,” says Thomas. “But both albums have a great energy about them.” 

Those energy levels undulate across a dazzling array of moods and voices; as broad as the name Lost Horizons sounds. Take the first three tracks: the melting rapture of ‘Halcyon’ featuring Jack Wolter of Bella Union signings Penelope Isles, the simmering urban-soulful ‘I Woke Up With An Open Heart’ featuring Nubiya Brandon of The Hempolics and the quintessentially melancholy-delic ‘Grey Tower’ featuring a returning Tim Smith . 

Also returning from Ojalá are Gemma Dunleavy, Karen Peris (the innocence mission), Cameron Neal (Horse Thief) and Marissa Nadler. The last three are all Bella Union family members; likewise, John Grant (the lush, choral ‘Cordelia’, etched by David Rothon’s pedal steel and Fiona Brice’s elegant strings) and Ren Harvieu (a sultry ‘Unravelling In Slow Motion’), and new signing Laura Groves (the jazz-tinged ‘Blue Soul’), all making their Lost Horizons debuts. 

Dana Margolin of the hugely acclaimed Porridge Radio lends the rampant ‘One For Regret’’ her trademark bristling energy; at the other end of the spectrum, ‘Flutter’ features Rosie Blair (of former Bella Union signing Ballet School) adding exquisite blue notes to a stark palate of Thomas’ piano and Fiona Brice’s strings. Deploying his A&R acumen, Raymonde called on new Swedish discovery Kavi Kwai for the Cocteaus-evoking ‘Every Beat That Passed’ (“You can’t make music for as long as I have and drop all your influences and habits overnight,” says Raymonde). Also present are Lily Wolter (of Penelope Isles) under her solo pseudonym KookieLou, and C Duncan. A richer and more varied cast list would be very hard to find. 

“I think In Quiet Moments is more in the direction of where we’re going,” Thomas concludes. “People have retreated into their lives and, in those quiet moments, reflected on the world, how we fit in and who we trust. Maybe the next album will be about rebellion! But the road is long and winding. We just need to express ourselves in how we feel at the time.” 

Lost Horizons recently announced news of a London live performance at the Scala in Autumn 2021.

Happy Release Day Hilang Child

To celebrate the release of his new album Every Mover, out today on Bella Union, Hilang Child has shared a visually stunning video for the track “Pesawat Aeroplane (English)”. The video utilises drone footage shot in Indonesia supplied by Tobias Brent and Lifted Imaging and edited by Hilang Child to create something beautiful and otherworldly. Of the video Ed Riman aka Hilang Child says: With the song being loosely about my dad moving to the other side of the world, when writing it I kept envisioning that first plane journey he’d have taken and the view from the window as it passed above the landscape. I used those visions as the basis for the song’s visual, imagining those scenes as if they appeared in a distant memory, or a dream.”

“The greatest thing about being a musician is experiencing it with other people,” says Ed Riman, the Brighton-based Eurasian singer, songwriter and sound-scapist who records as Hilang Child. “Whether that’s playing with others, creating together, sharing a vision, whatever, I just think in all aspects it’s a totally elevated experience when you’re not alone.”

Proof rings out with force and feeling on Hilang Child’s superlative second album, Every Mover. In 2018, Riman delivered a serene, textured debut album in Years, rich in sound and feeling. Lauren Laverne, Q, MOJO and others lavished praise, but the “isolating process” of making the album left Riman hungry to find alternative ways of working. Meanwhile, the “lonely, pressured” aftermath of Years found Riman grappling with “rough self-esteem and anxiety issues”, amplified in part by social media’s ‘fulfilment narratives’. Duly, he set out to navigate and overcome these mindsets, drawing deeply on his own insecurities and those he recognised in others.

These themes converge emphatically on Every Mover, an album steeped in everyday emotional states and crafted for cathartic, communal performance. Drawing on a rich spread of collaborators, sounds and themes, Riman uses his frustrations as the impetus to transform the brimming promise of Years into upfront and expansive new shapes. “I wanted it to sound a bit gutsier than the first album,” he says, succinctly, “heavier and closer to the kind of stuff that hits me when I go to shows or blast music in the car. I started out in music as a drummer playing for pop or beat-driven artists and grew up listening to louder stuff, but a lot of the music I’ve made as Hilang Child has been more ethereal. I wanted to bring it back to a place that feels more ‘me’ and make more of a thing of having big hypnotic drums, aggressive bass, ripping distorted instruments and a general energy to it.”     

“Good to be Young” serves swift notice of this leap, its banked synths and twinkling sound clusters leading to an assertion of fresh force when the main beat lands and a congregation of friends – AK Patterson, Paul Thomas Saunders, Dog in the Snow, Ellen Murphy, members of Penelope Isles – unite for the gang-vocal refrains. “It’s all iridescent colour I’m on,” Riman exults, a claim lived up to on the full-flush folktronica of “Shenley”. A reflection on spiralling insecurity, “Seen the Boreal” ups the ante again with its monk-ish chorales, looping samples, spectral woodwinds (from multi-instrumentalist John ‘Rittipo’ Moore, of Public Service Broadcasting and Bastille previous) and ecstatic chorus, Riman transforming a meditation on hindsight’s limiting effects into a spur to look forwards. And surge forwards he does with the glittering synths, spacey guitars, and Krautrock propulsion of “King Quail”, developed in jam sessions with dream-pop wonder Zoe Mead (Wyldest) in her basement studio.

Riman’s sounds are enriched wherever you turn, from the epic prog-tronica of “The Next Hold” to the vocal release and layered arrangement of “Play ’Til Evening”; a kind of summit meeting between Surrender-era Chemical Brothers and Fleet Foxes in the high church of ecstatic sound. The treated chorales of “Magical Fingertip” and naked lyrics of the festival-sized new single “Anthropic (Cold Times)” showcase a fertile push-pull of lush arrangements and wide-open emotions in Riman’s sound; on the latter, Rittipo’s horns brim with expressive power.

Brought to a sublime close with “Steppe”, the resulting album projects its own epiphanic force. The birth was not always smooth: due to Covid-19, tours were cancelled and studios closed. Thankfully, most of the main parts were recorded pre-lockdown between East London, Gateshead, Brighton, Wandsworth and elsewhere, before mixing proceeded remotely. Meanwhile, alongside indie-pop trio OUTLYA’s Will Bloomfield (percussion/co-production on ‘Play ’Til Evening’), visual design collective Tough Honey (accompanying videos) and other collaborators, Riman’s bond with co-producer JMAC (Troye Sivan, Haux, Lucy Rose) proved crucial. “It felt freeing to work collaboratively and have that push-and-pull of ideas,” says Riman. “Even the moments where we didn’t see eye-to-eye made it feel like I wasn’t alone, with someone else working just as passionately on the project.”

That sense of passion lights up Every Mover, an album that hymns the redemptive qualities of richly expressive music crafted in simpatico unison with friends. “I get told I’m quite an openly emotional person,” says Riman, “and I suppose the extremes in this album reflect that! But I also wanted the album to roughly follow the mental flow of feeling worthless, then recognising it, then accepting your shortcomings and trying to work on it, then coming out unscathed on the other side. I’m still not fully out of the spiral. The Covid apocalypse, alongside some personal life changes, have definitely caused it to resurface. But I’m glad I made this album as a kind of cathartic primer on trying to deal with it.” Now, time for other people to experience it too.