Ezra Furman debuts two new tracks

With anticipation mounting around the release of his new album Twelve Nudes, available 30th August via Bella Union, Ezra Furman has shared two new tracks from the LP. Of new single “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” Furman says: “This is a romantic song of transgender longing. It’s another entry in my series of ‘I Wanna’ songs (in the tradition of the Ramones). I thought it was time we had an ‘Earth Angel’ for the queers. Of course because it’s an Ezra Furman tune, there’s a little bit of desperation, religion and body-talk.” The track comes with a brilliant video directed by Alix Spence, of which she says: “For me, I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend is a music video about externalising the internal. Listening to the song and speaking with Ezra, I saw our two dancers, Brandon Mathis and and Jobel Medina, as physical manifestations of internal suffering. I wanted to literally have us wrestle with ourselves and the complexities of our personal struggles. The video features amazing choreography from Sarah Prinz and costumes by Britton Litow.”

Of his new US single, “Evening Prayer”, Furman states: “Our rallying cry. We music fans go to shows for transcendence; it’s like being called to prayer. But as Abraham Heschel said, “Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood.” I want all our fans to become activists. We punk fans have so much energy to give to the fight against injustice, i.e. the abuse of the poor by the rich, i.e. climate change. So this is one to get you in the mood.”

Twelve Nudes is our punk record,” says Ezra Furman. “We made it in Oakland, quickly. We drank and smoked. Then we made the loud parts louder. I hurt my voice screaming. This was back in 2018, when things were bad in the world. The songs are naked with nothing to hide.”

Immediate proof is offered by ‘Calm Down’ (aka ‘I Should Not Be Alone’), the album’s insanely catchy opening track and lead single, bound up in a compact two minutes and 22 seconds.

“Desperate times make for desperate songs” says Furman. “I wrote this in the summer of 2018, a terrible time. It’s the sound of me struggling to admit that I’m not okay with the current state of human civilization, in which bad men crush us into submission. Once you admit how bad it feels to live in a broken society, you can start to resist it, and imagine a better one.” 

Furman’s preceding album, 2018’s Transangelic Exodus, was “an angry and fearful and pent-up reaction to events too,” he recalls. “But it was a carefully written and recorded version; we took a lot of time with edits and overdubs. I knew I wanted I make this album quickly and not spend time thinking how to play the songs. Twelve Nudes is a ‘body’ more than a ‘mind’ record – more animal than intellectual, And by affirming negativity, it gives you energy, to reject stuff. There’s more space for positivity.”

Far from being defeated by a world in turmoil, Furman’s productivity has only increased the worse things have got – and he’s taken up different disciplines to boot. Between Transangelic Exodus and Twelve Nudes, the 33⅓ imprint published his deeply personal, thoughtful and incisive book on Lou Reed’s legendary 1972 album “Transformer”, before Furman scored the soundtrack to Netflix’s acclaimed comedy Sex Education (it aired in January), which showcased the tender side of his songwriting.

But all his pent-up energy had to be channelled somewhere: hence Twelve Nudes, which Furman and band recorded in October and November 2018 before the album was mixed by the venerated producer John Congleton (Sharon van Etten, St Vincent, John Grant). Furman says the album has two spiritual heroes – the late great punk rock rocker Jay Reatard, and Canadian poet, philosopher and essayist Anne Carson. “She’s one of my top three living writers,” he says. “Anne had these visions, or meditations, to deal with the intense pain in her life, which she calls ‘nudes’, and similarly these songs are meditations on pain and recognising what’s there if you go digging around in your anger and fear and anxiety. So, my album is called Twelve Nudes.”

“The record is political,” says Furman, “but it offers an emotional reaction rather than being specific or partisan.” Furman’s Jewish identity shapes ‘Rated R Crusaders,’ triggered by the Israel/Palestine conflict and its complex web of refugee trauma. ‘Trauma’, meanwhile, seethes with the spiritual malaise brought on by watching wealthy bullies accused of sexual assault rise to power. America, Furman well knows, is balanced on a knife-edge between white male supremacy and the dream of universal opportunity; hence the references to Mexico, slaveowners and US ‘founding father’ Ben Franklin in ‘In America’. As Furman sings, reiterating the spirit of punk rock, and positivity, “Put it all in a two-minute pop song / A really-mean-it-a-lot song for America.

“One of my goals in making music is to make the world seem bigger, and life seem larger,” he concludes. “I want to be a force that tries to revive the human spirit rather than crush it, to open possibilities rather than close them down. Sometimes a passionate negativity is the best way to do that.”

Happy Release Day Penelope Isles

Today at Bella Union we celebrate the debut album release from Brighton based band Penelope Isles. Until The Tide Creeps In is available now and you can catch this fantastic live band across Europe and America.

Praise for Penelope Isles’ Until The Tide Creeps In…

“Timeless and special… Unashamedly bight melodies that throw you into the sunlight and make the darker moments even more striking.” DIY

“A knockout album with instant charm… When Penelope Isles hit the spot they hit it with a dazzled burst of refracted light.” Metro

Until The Tide… is a generous, lively dream–pop offering. They soar like Spiritualized; they shimmer like Mazzy Star. On seven–minute epic ‘Gnarbone’ they go motorik, using found sound like Public Service Broadcasting.” London In Stereo

“Sweltering guitars scorch the earth [on ‘Chlorine’]… While summery synths and keys frolic in spaces left between the drum line and spiraling vocals, the riff phrases communicate nearly as much warmth and meaning as the lyrics do.” – Stereogum

“There is a grandeur to their songs, big and swelling, ebbs and flows…The whole band is seriously talented, and…seriously rock, too.” – Brooklyn Vegan

“Choppy guitar and thumping percussion combine to create a markedly DIY aesthetic throughout the video’s three minutes and five seconds of scrapbooked collage visuals. Said DIY aesthetic, both sonically as well as visually, operates as a self-aware style, one that brings an element of dirty garage rock to the haze of dream-pop flushes.” – Paste

“…a dreamy but biting piece of guitar pop…soaring, pastoral, highly intelligent songwriting.” – Clash Music

Formed around the chemistry between siblings and dual songwriters Jack and Lily Wolter, Until the Tide Creeps In is an album deepened by shared experience. Born in Devon and raised on the Isle of Man, the Wolters’ bonds were strengthened by separation when Jack moved away to study art at university at 19, when Lily was 13. As he puts it, wryly, “By the time I moved home Lily was not so much of an annoying younger sister anymore and had grown up and started playing in bands and writing songs. We soon became very close. I had written some songs, so we started a band called Your Gold Teeth. We toured a bit and then Lily left for Brighton to study songwriting. A couple of years later I moved down and we started Penelope Isles together.” For every sibling band forged in rivalry, many others mount an unassailable genetic argument for keeping the music in the family. The latter is assuredly the case with Penelope Isles, a quartet completed by Jack Sowton and Becky Redford.

Crisp and woozy, blissful and biting, Until the Tide Creeps In is an album deepened by shared experience: experiences of, in Jack’s words, “leaving home, moving away, dealing with transitions in life and growing up. We are six years apart, so we had a different experience of some of this, but we share a similar inspiration when writing music.”

Penelope Isles share ‘Cut Your Hair’

Today the Brighton based quartet Penelope Isles, led by brother and sister Jack and Lily Wolter, have released “Cut Your Hair” from their forthcoming debut album Until the Tide Creeps In, due out this Friday on Bella Union.

Flood premiered the song, saying: “…the five-minute slow-burner is its own unique brand of noisy pop, lurching along before opening up into a heavy, guitar driven downpour.” You can listen to the beautiful and spacious, slow burning jam below, and pre-order the album HERE. Additionally, the band is happy to reveal details for their first ever North American tour, taking place this fall. Full list of the band’s dates below. Tickets will be available for purchase HERE starting Friday.

Jack Wolter had this to say about the song: “One of my favourite songs to play live. The slow sludgy groove always feels like a refreshing moment in the set. I wrote it in our old garage on the Isle Of Man whilst in uncertainty of whether or not to move away to pursue a career in music or not. I had a small studio set up and it started with the drum groove and the rest happened really quickly. I guess it’s a fictional tale and concept of what could have been me if I didn’t have a go at doing ‘the band thing’. A don’t give up on your dreams kinda thing.

Early praise for Penelope Isles…

“Timeless and special… Unashamedly bight melodies that throw you into the sunlight and make the darker moments even more striking.” DIY

“A knockout album with instant charm… When Penelope Isles hit the spot they hit it with a dazzled burst of refracted light.” Metro

Until The Tide… is a generous, lively dream–pop offering. They soar like Spiritualized; they shimmer like Mazzy Star. On seven–minute epic ‘Gnarbone’ they go motorik, using found sound like Public Service Broadcasting.” London In Stereo

“Sweltering guitars scorch the earth [on ‘Chlorine’]… While summery synths and keys frolic in spaces left between the drum line and spiraling vocals, the riff phrases communicate nearly as much warmth and meaning as the lyrics do.” – Stereogum

“There is a grandeur to their songs, big and swelling, ebbs and flows…The whole band is seriously talented, and…seriously rock, too.” – Brooklyn Vegan

“Choppy guitar and thumping percussion combine to create a markedly DIY aesthetic throughout the video’s three minutes and five seconds of scrapbooked collage visuals. Said DIY aesthetic, both sonically as well as visually, operates as a self-aware style, one that brings an element of dirty garage rock to the haze of dream-pop flushes.” – Paste

“…a dreamy but biting piece of guitar pop…soaring, pastoral, highly intelligent songwriting.” – Clash Music

Formed around the chemistry between siblings and dual songwriters Jack and Lily Wolter, Until the Tide Creeps In is an album deepened by shared experience. Born in Devon and raised on the Isle of Man, the Wolters’ bonds were strengthened by separation when Jack moved away to study art at university at 19, when Lily was 13. As he puts it, wryly, “By the time I moved home Lily was not so much of an annoying younger sister anymore and had grown up and started playing in bands and writing songs. We soon became very close. I had written some songs, so we started a band called Your Gold Teeth. We toured a bit and then Lily left for Brighton to study songwriting. A couple of years later I moved down and we started Penelope Isles together.” For every sibling band forged in rivalry, many others mount an unassailable genetic argument for keeping the music in the family. The latter is assuredly the case with Penelope Isles, a quartet completed by Jack Sowton and Becky Redford.

Crisp and woozy, blissful and biting, Until the Tide Creeps In is an album deepened by shared experience: experiences of, in Jack’s words, “leaving home, moving away, dealing with transitions in life and growing up. We are six years apart, so we had a different experience of some of this, but we share a similar inspiration when writing music.”

Until the Tide Creeps In is released tomorrow via Bella Union.

Happy Release Day To The Soft Cavalry

Today at Bella Union we celebrate the release of the self-titled debut album from The Soft Cavalry. You can catch the band tonight at a live performance + signing at Rough Trade East.

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 labour 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 Mansun. 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 Soft Cavalry is also that rarity: a musical project that began life on an industrial site in Reading.

Additionally, the album is a way of rewriting a man’s narrative, and proof that relative late bloomers (Steve was in his late thirties 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!”

On that industrial site in Reading, 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.

“I was wide eyed and unrealistic,” he remembers. “Never expecting my many flaws and doubts would ever catch up with me. Inevitably they did.” He cites his upbringing, in the Midlands with church-going parents. His father’s law work encompassed, “handling the aftermath of death and marriage breakdowns. When I was nine, we moved to Amsterdam where they ran a rehab centre – as you do! We lived on the top floor of an old Dutch building with recovering heroin addicts living below us. From a young age, I saw what life was like for others.”

When Steve next wrote about Rachel, the title ‘Never Be Without You’ – the album’s one clear moment of AOR pop levity – sounded lovey-dovey but the song evoked, “the bumpy start to our relationship. While other relationships were falling apart.”

Rachel: “Steve was like a tornado when we first met. And I already had a son. Things were complicated.”

The Soft Cavalry is something of a life’s work – a chance for redemption, a heart-to-heart with the self. ‘Bulletproof’ addresses, “struggle and fear, and making sense of it in your head.” ‘Only In Dreams’ admits, “accepting you’re not the finished article that you’d like to be.” Two brooding epics were fired by his Christian upbringing: ‘The Velvet Fog’ – “my doubts with faith, but not being able to shake off my past, even today” – and ‘The Ever-Turning Wheel’: “always trying to thumb my way back to something I had when I was younger, something simpler.”

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.”

Even what Steve calls the “post-apocalyptic” scenario of ‘Careless Sun’ (“all we can do is wait for the banks to burst and baptise our abandoned fear”) finds room for optimism. “It’s like, how the hell is this all going to pan out?” he says, meaning our current political and social malaise. “But you have to muddle your way through, and find peace at another level.”

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, formerly 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.”

The Soft Cavalry will play live, starting around the album release. So, this happy accident, lovers’ story, crisis of faith, labour 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.

Modern Nature share ‘Footsteps’

Having recently announced the release of their debut album How To Live, available 23rd August via Bella Union, along with news of a headline UK tour in September, Modern Nature have today shared a video for new single “Footsteps”. Of the video director Jake McGowan says: “The film takes place in a day, or is it a week or year or… the cyclical monotony of life and the strides we take to better our selves, our living conditions. Simultaneously seeking isolation and stimulation. Often out of body sometimes punctuated by your own internal film sequences and flashbacks. Sometimes we need a refresh, a cleanse, to bring us back to some kind of reality.” 

Modern Nature frontman Jack Cooper adds: “One of the threads through the album is a journey from the chaos of the city to the sanctuary of the country, so we wanted to condense that idea down over the course of Footsteps with the final scene being a baptism… washing everything away. There were a few films that felt very present when writing the album, so there’s some references to Mike Leigh’s Naked, Withnail and I, Tales From A Hard City, Emily Lloyd in Wish You Were Here and The Rise And Fall Of Reginald Perrin.”

Modern Nature’s music has been described as “compelling” by MOJO, “auspicious” by Uncut and “magical” by Shindig magazine, while in a recent One To Watch feature the Observer said: “Taking their cues from the tender falsetto of English folkman Nick Drake, the free-form rhythms of Alice Coltrane and the rattling guitars of Radiohead, Modern Nature’s debut EP is a sprawling journey through an imagined natural landscape.” 

Modern Nature will be performing at festivals including Port Eliot and Green Man over the summer, and recently announced news of a headline UK tour in September. Full dates here.

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