Fresh New Tracks, Vol. 21 – 5ON5, Brian Lambert, Wild Horse

It’s been over two and a half months since my last Fresh New Tracks post, as I haven’t felt much enthusiasm for writing about music, but I thought it was time to try and get back into the groove. Accordingly, today I’m featuring three new singles by three very different artists I’ve previously featured on this blog. They are, in alphabetical order, German collective 5ON5, Texas singer-songwriter Brian Lambert, and British indie pop-rock band Wild Horse.

5ON5 – “Balloon”

Based in beautiful, cosmopolitan Berlin, Germany, 5ON5 is a collaborative music project comprised of four distinctly unique artists spanning two generations and coming from completely different music backgrounds. The brainchild of Max Koffler, a singer-songwriter, musician and producer with over 20 years experience in the music industry and two solo albums to his credit, 5ON5 also includes singer-songwriter and producer $INAN (aka Sinan Pakar), rapper and visual artist Maxx B, and singer Yumin. Their unusual name 5ON5 was inspired by Max’s music label sonsounds, and reflects the group’s eclectic blend of music genres and styles, including EDM, synth pop, hip hop and alternative rock. I’ve previously featured Koffler’s music on this blog twice in 2018, as well as two of 5ON5’s singles, “Runaway” in 2021, and most recently last January, “Don’t Dance” (which was one of my most-read reviews of 2022). They followed with four more singles in 2022, and now kick off 2023 with their latest single “Balloon“, accompanied by an animated video, which dropped January 12th.

The song, which was produced by Koffler along with Steve van Velvet, and mixed and mastered by Jeson Huang, seems to be about going on a journey without any particular agenda “I don’t know where we’re meant to fly so purposeless, so purposeless…” One of the things I like most about 5ON5’s music is how well their individual vocals harmonize, and I love the song’s airy dance groove, spacey synths and delicate mix of chiming and twangy guitar notes.

The colorful video, created by Max Klumker, shows animated versions of the four band members singing and dancing against a glorious ever-changing backdrop of figures, ranging from Mary Poppins and Easter Island statues to astronauts and lovable aliens, floating through the skies in hot air balloons, spaceships or by their own accord.

Connect with 5ON5:  Facebook / Instagram  

Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

BRIAN LAMBERT – It’s Good

Brian Lambert is an engaging, thoughtful and extremely prolific singer-songwriter and musician based in Denton, Texas. He’s been writing and recording music for many years, and says he’s “reinvented himself more times than he can count.” He even tried his hand at country music for a while, but came to the realization that it just wasn’t for him. More recently, he’s been making indie rock music inspired by some of his favorite acts like Spoon, Gang of Youths, Soul Asylum and the Replacements. He used to play gigs all over the DFW metroplex, but with Covid putting a halt to that, in 2021 he challenged himself to writing, recording and producing a new song every week for a year, an ambitious feat he went on to accomplish! He’s continued to write and record songs both as a solo artist and in collaboration with a host of other musicians he’s met on Twitter. One he’s worked with the most is Marc Schuster, a singer-songwriter and musician from the Philadelphia area who’s also an educator, author, literary critic, blogger and visual artist. Together they’ve collaborated to create a separate music act The Star Crumbles, and last September, they released their fantastic debut album The Ghost of Dancing Slow (which I reviewed). Now Brian returns with his latest single “It’s Good“, which dropped yesterday, January 27th. 

The song is a collaboration with Schuster as well as fellow musician Mike Mosely, who performs under his own musical moniker Jr Moz Collective. Brian elaborates: “I had Covid over Christmas, and had some pretty wild dreams. In this particular dream, I got the chords to a song, and whenever that happens, it seems to make sense to get up as soon as you can, and grab your guitar and write it down. Lyrically, I wasn’t exactly sure where to go with it, so I decided to write a letter to my 11-year-old self. I cut a demo, and sent it to my friend Mike Mosely, who said ‘cut the song today’“. Even though Brian’s voice was still gravelly due to the effects of Covid, he went ahead and recorded the song anyway. He also played acoustic guitar and keyboards, with electric guitars and bass played by Mike and drums by Marc.

The result is a really compelling tune with a bit of a roots rock vibe, highlighted by some fine guitar work. The heartfelt lyrics, which Brian’s ravaged vocals make all the more poignant, offer encouragement to a young boy in that awkward transitional period between his childhood and teen years: “And you are, whatever you think you are. As bright as a shining star. Yeah, it’s good.” The video shows Brian driving around town and visiting vintage and resale shops in what I’m guessing are in and around his hometown of Denton.

Connect with Brian:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream his music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube

WILD HORSE – “Cougar”

Hailing from East Sussex, England is the talented and very charismatic young pop-rock band Wild Horse, consisting of brothers Henry and Jack Baldwin and long-time friend Ed Barnes. Now in their early 20s, the guys are seasoned musicians who’ve been writing and recording songs since forming in 2013, when they were barely teenagers. Both Henry and Jack are multi-instrumentalists who play guitar, bass and keyboards, as well as sing vocals, while Ed plays drums and percussion, sings backing vocals and plays guitar on a few tracks. The Baldwin brothers are also prolific songwriters who’ve penned hundreds of songs over the years, with five albums, three EPs and numerous singles to their credit. I’ve been following them for over five years, and love their music. I have reviewed two of their albums, DANCE!! Like An Animal in 2019, and When the Pool Is Occupied in late 2021, as well as one of their singles “Bitter” last September (which you can read here) The song spent two months on my weekly top 30 last fall. They’ve been releasing new singles every few months, and their latest is “Cougar” which also dropped yesterday, January 27th. 

Despite their young ages, Wild Horse are not afraid to tackle mature subjects, and “Cougar” is perhaps their most ‘adult’ song yet. The band explains: “‘Cougar’ is a tale of a lonely housewife who starts using psychedelics and visiting younger men to escape the pain of real life and her failing marriage. Told from the point of view of one of her conquests, the funky indie pop track expresses secret desires, bitter regrets and sweet oblivion. The song’s ending refrain of “how sweet the sound” features the soulful gospel vocals of Jalissa Livermore and reminds everyone that even if you know it won’t end well, you can’t turn back. It simply feels too good.”

It’s a terrific song, and I love the sensuous groove, lush synths, sparkling keyboards, snappy drums, and funky guitars. Jack’s plaintive vocals nicely convey the conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics “Cougar, You tell me that you’re married. You say it’s not a problem. He’s always working out of town. You tell me that you want me. You’re getting yourself ready. And like a deer under the headlights I find myself drawn into your life. This isn’t gonna end well. That man has left you broken. Confined inside these four gold walls.”

Connect with Wild Horse:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music / Reverbnation
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

Randy Rainbow Skewers Kevin McCarthy in “Speaker of the House”

I don’t usually write political posts, but perilous times call for extraordinary measures. I loathe the American GOP – a party that’s now gone full MAGA and Fascist – with a burning passion. It needs to be destroyed, so that it may one day be reborn again as a rational party. If I offend any of my readers’ sensibilities, so be it.

Comedian Randy Rainbow is a national treasure, frequently skewering the blatant hypocrisy of politicians and others in hilarious videos. His latest target is the obsequious Kevin McCarthy, who endured 14 humiliating losses before finally winning the Speakership of the U.S. House of Representatives on the 15th vote.

In this video, Rainbow calls out McCarthy and a number of other crazy Republican House members like Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Lauren Boebert (Colo.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.) and George Santos (N.Y), in “Speaker of the House” a brilliant spoof of the show stopper “Master of the House” from the legendary musical Les Misérables. A great example of his altered lyrics: “Speaker of the House/cunning little chap/covetous, conservative and full of crap. Thirsty as a fish/Quick to compromise/Only took the motherfucker 15 tries.” I love it!

Top 30 Songs for January 22-28, 2023

Paramore‘s defiant “This Is Why” remains at the top spot for a second week on my latest Top 30 chart, while The Star Crumbles‘ darkwave beauty “Shadows in the Dark” slides into second position. Entering the top 10 are “Trouble With This Bed” by Beach Weather, jumping five spots to #7, and “Night Bus” by Welsh singer-songwriter Caitlin Lavagna, moving up one spot to #10. Two songs make their debut: the beautiful “Just Before the Morning” by L.A.- based indie alt-rock band Local Natives, entering at #29, and “Sleepwalking” by American pop/punk rock band All Time Low, at #30.

  1. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (1)
  2. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (3)
  3. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (2)
  4. ANTI-HERO – Taylor Swift (5)
  5. I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU – The 1975 (4)
  6. SAIL AWAY – lovelytheband (7)
  7. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (12)
  8. OUT OF MY SYSTEM – Louis Tomlinson (9)
  9. OFFCUTS – Mount Famine (6)
  10. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (11)
  11. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (15)
  12. DANCE FOR ME – Sam Rappaport (13)
  13. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (8)
  14. LOVE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE – Crystal Cities (10)
  15. DISORDER – Columbia (16)
  16. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (18)
  17. THEN IT ALL GOES AWAY – Dayglow (20)
  18. WILD AS THE WIND – HULLAH (21)
  19. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (22)
  20. PAGES – White Reaper (23)
  21. KILL BILL – SZA (25)
  22. SNAP – Rosa Linn (14)
  23. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (17)
  24. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (19) 21st week on chart
  25. STICK SEASON – Noah Kahan (26)
  26. UNHOLY – Sam Smith featuring Kim Petras (24)
  27. LUX ÆTERNA – Metallica (29)
  28. EVERYTHING I OWN – Dom Thomas (30)
  29. JUST BEFORE THE MORNING – Local Natives (N)
  30. SLEEPWALKING – All Time Low (N)

BEACH WEATHER – Single Review: “Homebody”

In the space of only six months, alternative pop-rock trio Beach Weather have become one of my favorite bands. I first learned about them last summer when I heard their song “Sex, Drugs, Etc.”, which I loved at first listen. Though the song was originally recorded in 2016, and included on their debut EP Chit Chat, it wasn’t released as a single back then, and largely went unnoticed. After releasing a second EP What a Drag, the band went on hiatus as the three members, Nick Santino, Reeve Powers, and Sean Silverman, relocated to different cities and began working on their own solo projects.

As luck would have it, they decided to reunite in late 2021, and began work on their forthcoming debut album Pineapple Sunrise, due for release on March 3rd. In the meantime, “Sex, Drugs, Etc.” went viral on TikTok in the summer of 2022, and started getting airplay on AltNation and many alternative radio stations. The song eventually went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Alternative Airplay chart. It’s also spent 20 weeks and counting on my own Weekly Top 30, three of them at #1, and ended up ranking at #3 on my 100 Best Songs of 2022 list.

They released “Unlovable” last August, their first new release in five years. They followed in November with the melancholy but beautiful “Trouble With This Bed”, which just entered the top 10 on my Weekly Top 30. Today they’re back with their latest single “Homebody“, and I love it aleady! It’s more upbeat than their two previous singles, with a sunny vibe and infectious toe-tapping groove. Like all their songs, though, the instrumentation, musicianship and production values are top-notch, particularly the breezy synths and lively percussion. And lead singer Nick Santino’s vocals have an earnest, yet casual quality that’s incredibly appealing. All four singles will be included on Pineapple Sunrise.

About the song, Santino told Substream Magazine: “Homebody is a song about being a homebody. That’s about it. Who wants to go out and see people you don’t really like when you could just have your own party for one, roll a joint, order some tacos and watch YouTube all night. We think people are really going to relate to this one. It’s one of our new favorites.”

Been a downer for a minute
Sunshine in my eyes
Got me blurry all the time
Primadonna in my feelings
Just a kick back kid in the low lights

Homebody
Just a homebody
Let me slide for a while
It’s my own party
Homebody
Just a homebody
Let me slide for a while
Slide for a while

I can take it I can leave it
Cause I’m already bored
And it’s seven in the morning
Burning messages I
Can’t remember if I
Forgot or I’m ignoring

These days
I been fading away
And I wanted to stay
Don’t keep calling me, calling me nah ah
These days
I can dream out the day
In a lavender haze
Don’t keep calling me, calling me nah ah

Beach Weather have also released a delightful video to accompany “Homebody”, directed by L.A.-based photographer and content creator Guadalupe Bustos. With a nod to the 60s, the video shows the guys cavorting around the house in vintage robes as they go about their day as homebodies.

Follow Beach Weather: TwitterInstagramFacebook 

Stream their music: SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudAmazon Music / YouTube

DARKSOFT – Album Review: “Beigeification”

I love dream pop with an alternative bent, and the music of singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Darksoft fits the bill quite nicely (and his first name also happens to be Bill!). Originally from Seattle, where he was active in the local music scene both as a solo artist and a collaborator with other musicians, he relocated in late 2021 clear across the country to Portland, Maine. Deftly blending elements of dream pop, shoegaze and alternative rock, he creates music that’s both sumptuous and pleasing. His compelling lyrics, addressing timely and relevant issues related to technology, social media and disillusionment, are delivered with his enchanting and soothing ethereal vocals. The imaginative, talented and creative artist has released four concept albums thus far, the latest of which is Beigeification.

I previously featured him and his music three times on this blog in 2019, first when I reviewed his brilliant debut album Brain, a concept work named for the very first computer virus to attack the internet back in 1986, with each track titled after infamous viruses that followed. I later reviewed two singles, “WannaCry”, which addressed the deep cultural and political divide in America, fed by our tendency to stay stuck in our own echo chambers, and “Cybersecurity“, which questioned whether all our data floating around out there in cyberspace was somehow being kept safe. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the ‘Related’ links at the end of this post.) He followed with Meltdown (which includes the two aforementioned singles) in 2020, then Cryo in early 2022. They’re all excellent albums, but Beigeification is my favorite of them all.

Released on January 13th via Darksoft’s own label Look Up Records, Beigeification was produced and recorded entirely by him, mixed by Brian Fisher (Hibou, Éclo, Eastern Souvenirs), and mastered by Stefan Mac (Cold War Kids, No Vacation, Sea Lemon). He describes the album as “a postmodern dose of beigey moods and pastel phrases to match the disillusionment of our age.” For the album cover, he decided to use only a single beige color. He further elaborated in an Instagram post on his thoughts and inspiration for creating the album:

When producing an album, I find that having a consistent theme is really helpful to inform the overall sound, lyrics, progressions, melodies, and instrumentation. For lyrics, I’m using a lot of ‘thought-terminating cliches’. These annoying, overused phrases and idioms have the effect of ending a conversation, because they are vague, universal truths. What’s also interesting is that grammatically they say absolutely nothing but they carry a lot of weight in context. Examples are ‘it is what it is’, ‘you gotta do what you gotta do’, ‘win some lose some’, ‘only time will tell’ and ‘to each their own‘.

This theme has been fun to play with, and I think fits the general attitude after watching the world over the past few years. I don’t want to encourage inaction, but when so much negativity piles up, it’s like ‘whaddya gonna do?’ To stay sane and functional as a digital being, you sort of have to accept that an endless barrage of bad news will always be at your fingertips, and then focus on what matters to you. Also, remember when everything got beigeified? Perhaps your parents painted the walls beige to increase the ‘resell value’ of their home (even if they weren’t selling it). Or think of Carmela Soprano’s Etruscan-themed living room, or how beige was used for conformity reasons on workplace PCs for most of the 20th century. I want these songs on Beigeification to carry nothing too heavy, say something without saying anything, and sit in the background of everyday life, like how sand fits around your toes at the beach, passive like the color beige, and worn-out like these idioms.

Every song on Beigeification uses only one chord progression over and over! I was trying to simplify with less is more. I realized I could just add or remove layers to change the vibe. Or change the playing/strumming slightly or use different chord inversions. This approach keeps things cohesive and was totally different from how I used to write, which was different chord progressions from section to section. It’s more carefree. It is what it is.

The album contains nine wonderful tracks, starting with “It Is What It Is“, which was also released as the first single. The song has a fun, bouncy vibe, highlighted by Darksoft’s beautiful jangly guitar notes and breathy vocals singing the cliche lyrics he alluded to above: “Say what you will. When you know you just know. All’s well that ends well. What goes around comes around.” The charming video for the song, showing him barefoot and dressed all in white, doing a simple dance move in front of empty, nondescript office parks around Portland, Maine, was filmed on VHS recording equipment, giving it a vintage lo-fi quality.

Only Time Will Tell” has an 80s new wave sound that calls to mind some of the music of Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, but with a modern twist. I love the lush jangly and chiming guitars and snappy percussion, and Darksoft’s silky vocals are both comforting and sensuous. The lyrics speak of being patient and taking things slowly and deliberately, aware that ‘good things come to those who wait’: “You got to learn to walk before you learn to run. Everything will come to the one that waits. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Only time will tell.”

Next up is the languid “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do“, a song so beautiful and soothing that I’m now besotted with this album. Once again, Darksoft’s guitar work is gorgeous, as are the sparkling synths and gentle percussion, and his layered breathy vocals are sublime. The way he strings together so many trite cliche sayings into something beautiful and compelling is quite clever: “You gotta do what you gotta do. You gotta be who you gotta be. Do or don’t, live or die. You never know until you try.” The beautiful video, directed by Brett Davis Jr. and filmed by Gerald Davis, shows Darksoft singing the song at Two Lights State Park and Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

The great songs keep coming. “Win Some Lose Some” is a return to the breezy new wave vibe we heard on “Only Time Will Tell”, which nicely serves to reinforce the ‘c’est la vie’ sense of resignation over life’s hiccups that Darksoft is getting at on the album – “Reap what you sow. Take what ya get. Better luck next time. Win some lose some. Win some lose others. If it’s not one thing then it’s another.” “Whatever It Takes” has a lively, toe-tapping beat, neat fuzzy guitars and colorful synths, and, as always, beautifully-layered sensuous vocals.

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but my gosh, “Stones Unturned” is so gorgeous I can barely contain myself. Darksoft’s delicate jangly guitar work is stunning, accompanied by ambient sounds of a distant thundershower and beautiful swirling synths. His comforting ethereal vocals have been electronically altered in spots, giving them a fuzzy, otherworldly feel. The lyrics seem to be about – to use yet another cliche expression – ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’: “Some stones are best left, left unturned. Some words are better left unheard. Somethings you don’t need to see. Some views look better from dreams. Sometimes the road less traveled is leading nowhere.”

A fantastic dominant bassline takes center stage on “There’s Always Something Going On“, a song about how there will always be some unpleasant issue or problem to deal with in life: “There’s only so much I can do. There’s always something left undone. Even after we’re all dead and gone. There will be something going wrong.” And on the peppy “Fast Lane“, Darksoft sings of the perils of living recklessly: “It’s a short way down, but a long way back. Take a shortcut in the fast lane and you just might crash.” The album closes with “Such Is Life“, a pleasing song of resignation that sometimes shit happens in life, and we just have to accept it and do the best we can as we move on: “Such is life. Guess that’s the way it’s gonna be. C’est la vie.”

I don’t know what more I can write about Beigeification that I haven’t already gushed about, other than to say that I think it’s one of the best albums of 2023 so far. I love it so much I bought my own copy on Bandcamp, and so should you!

Connect with Darksoft on Facebook / TwitterInstagram
Stream his music on SpotifyApple Music / Soundcloud 
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes

Top 30 Songs for January 15-21, 2023

Well, never would I have ever imagined that Paramore would have a #1 song on my weekly top 30 chart, but their single “This Is Why” has made its way to the top this week. Though the Nashville trio, consisting of lead vocalist Hayley Williams, guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro, have been around since 2004, I’ve never much cared for their music. But “This Is Why” really resonates with me, both musically and lyrically, and is now my current favorite song. Their first new single in four years, the defiantly honest song is the lead single from their forthcoming sixth album, also to be titled This Is Why.

About the single, Williams told NME “‘This Is Why” was the very last song we wrote for the album. To be honest, I was so tired of writing lyrics but Taylor convinced Zac and I both that we should work on this last idea. What came out of it was the title track for the whole album. It summarizes the plethora of ridiculous emotions, the roller-coaster of being alive in 2022, having survived even just the last three or four years. You’d think after a global pandemic of fucking biblical proportions and the impending doom of a dying planet, that humans would have found it deep within themselves to be kinder or more empathetic or something.”

Moving into the top 10 this week are “Out of My System” by British singer-songwriter and One Direction alumnus Louis Tomlinson and “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” by Australian band Crystal Cities. There are no new debuts this week.

  1. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (3)
  2. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (1)
  3. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (4)
  4. I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU – The 1975 (2)
  5. ANTI-HERO – Taylor Swift (7)
  6. OFFCUTS – Mount Famine (6)
  7. SAIL AWAY – lovelytheband (8)
  8. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (5)
  9. OUT OF MY SYSTEM – Louis Tomlinson (11)
  10. LOVE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE – Crystal Cities (12)
  11. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (13)
  12. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (14)
  13. DANCE FOR ME – Sam Rappaport (15)
  14. SNAP – Rosa Linn (9)
  15. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (17)
  16. DISORDER – Columbia (16)
  17. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (10)
  18. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (21)
  19. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (20) 20th week on chart
  20. THEN IT ALL GOES AWAY – Dayglow (23)
  21. WILD AS THE WIND – HULLAH (24)
  22. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (25)
  23. PAGES – White Reaper (26)
  24. UNHOLY – Sam Smith featuring Kim Petras (22)
  25. KILL BILL – SZA (27)
  26. STICK SEASON – Noah Kahan (28)
  27. SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (18)
  28. CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (19)
  29. LUX ÆTERNA – Metallica (29)
  30. EVERYTHING I OWN – Dom Thomas (30)

CATCH THE SPARROW – EP Review: “Winter Flowers”

Catch The Sparrow is the music project of Dutch-born and now England-based composer, singer-songwriter and arranger Suze Terwisscha van Scheltinga. I learned about her when her mother reached out to me after reading my review of the song “Mayfly” by British singer-songwriter Callum Pitt, whom Suze has performed with. Her mother alerted me to Catch The Sparrow’s new EP Winter Flowers that was released on December 2nd of last year, which I’m finally getting around to writing about.

According to her bio, as a child Suze loved writing stories and making music, and upon realizing it was possible to combine both passions, she began writing songs. By the time she was 16, she started performing her own original songs while accompanying herself on piano. She studied at the Utrecht Conservatoire, majoring in Jazz & Pop vocals, and during her time there, she started playing with a band as a way to fully explore new sounds and rhythms. After graduating in 2019, she made the bold decision to relocate to the UK, to study Folk and Traditional music at Newcastle University under the guidance of Emily Portman and Imogen Gunner. Influenced by the likes of Joni Mitchell, Lisa Knapp, Joanna Newsom and Fiona Apple, her compositions transcend boundaries of style and genre in a compelling blend of folk, jazz and pop.

She’s already making a name for herself in the British music scene. Under her artistic moniker Catch The Sparrow (which was inspired by a lyric in the Crosby, Stills & Nash classic “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), she released her debut single “Painting the Roses Red” in December 2020. She followed in February 2021 with the similarly-titled album Painting the Roses Red, a collection of eight beautiful jazz-infused tracks. Shortly after earning her Master’s degree at Newcastle University in 2021, she saw her song ‘Winnowing’ chosen as one of the highly recommended entries of 2021’s Tune Into Nature Music Prize, and in April 2022 she was selected as one of ten emerging female composers to write for Issie Barratt’s jazz ensemble INTERCHANGE.

As she immersed herself in the culture of Northeast England, Catch The Sparrow discovered the charms of Northumbrian small-pipes (bellows-blown bagpipes from North East England that have been an important factor in the local musical culture for more than 250 years). Inspired by them, along with the traditional folk music she’d studied at Newcastle University, she wrote five songs for Winter Flowers that, in her own words, “reflect the ever present gloom and uncertainty without losing its glimmer of hope.” The EP was produced by David de la Haye, and features contributions of local musicians Ceitidh Mac on cello, Andy May on Northumbrian small-pipes and harmonium, and Mera Royle on harp.

Catch The Sparrow has the voice of an angel, and she layers her enchanting vocals to great effect, especially on the opening track “Farewell/Here’s The Tender Coming“, where she addresses a rather dark subject with beauty and grace. Like several tracks on Winter Flowers, this is actually a combination of two tunes that are are deeply rooted in the Northumbrian folk tradition. She explains: “The first tune ‘Farewell’ was lifted from the The Northumbrian Pipers’ Third Tune Book. The lyrics I wrote for this plaintive little melody, simply described as ‘a slow highland air’, depict the moment of parting and its aftermath. ‘Here’s The Tender Coming’ is a traditional Northumbrian song that recalls the practices of the notorious pressgangs that used to frequent the port of Newcastle during the Napoleonic wars.” (Press gangs were groups of soldiers or sailors used by the British Royal Navy as a harsh means of recruiting able bodied men into naval service, often against their will and by violent coercion. The practice of impressment – also known as Shanghai-ing or crimping – was common in all the world’s ports until about 1820, and was widely used, as recruiting sailors voluntarily was difficult due to the poor conditions on board ships, not to mention the dangers of serving in the navy, especially in times of war.)

“Farewell”, a wistful tune featuring layered a capella vocals accompanied by ambient sounds of gently crashing waves, is sung from the perspective of a newly-impressed sailor bidding goodbye to his loved one “Fare thee well, my sweet lassie. Fare thee well, I must depart.” “Here’s The Tender Coming” is sung from the perspective of the woman being left behind, lamenting the taking of her man, and warning other men to hide from the impressors: “See the tender lying, off at Shield’s Bar. With her colours flying, anchor at the bow. They took my bonny laddie, best of all the crew. Hide, canny laddie, hide theeself away. Hide till the frigate makes for Druridge Bay. If they take ye hinny, who’s to win our bread? Me and little Jackie better off be dead.”

The video for the song shows Catch The Sparrow singing the song in St Andrew’s Church in Newcastle, accompanied by Ceitidh MacLeod on cello and Mera Royle on harp. Instead of sounds of crashing waves, we hear Catch the Sparrow playing the gently droning shruti box (an instrument similar to the harmonium that originated in India).

Game of Chance” is a melancholy but lovely song, with delicate harp, harmonium and shruti box accompanying Catch The Sparrow’s bewitching vocals. She explains her inspiration for writing this song: “While working on this project, I stumbled by chance on Tish Murtha’s photo series Youth Unemployment, in which she portrays Newcastle’s youth during the Thatcher years. I was struck by the desolation and raw beauty of the pictures. The photo of ‘Cuddles playing cards’ became the inspiration for this particular song. The traditional Northumbrian tune ‘Small Coals an’ Little Money’ serves as a base layer for the song.”

Using card game metaphors, the lyrics seem to speak to the contrasting notions of privilege and luck, and dealing with the hands we’re dealt in life: “I have a lump of coal. It’s the only treasure I own. Daddy says I cannot go, but someday I’ll join him below. Down below, down below. Go ask the devil, ‘cause the devil might know. Deal a hand, deal a hand. We all play a game of chance. I have a deck of cards. Queen of flowers, one-eyed jack. Lucky, he who deals the hands. Took the red ace, left the black.

Halfway into the EP, we’re treated to “Interlude“, a one-minute long tune consisting of Catch The Sparrow’s layered a capella blend of humming and scat vocals, accompanied by jaunty hand claps. This is followed by “Border Spirit/Before the Flood“, another traditional folk couplet. “Border Spirit” is an instrumental-only tune, comprised of Northumbrian small-pipes and what sounds like shruti box and lasting just under two minutes, which then segues into “Before the Flood”, a beautiful piano-driven song highlighted by melancholy Northumbrian small-pipes and Catch The Sparrow’s soothing layered vocals. I’m struck by how much she sounds British or possibly Scottish, rather than Dutch.

The final track is the third couplet on the EP, featuring the title song “Winter Flowers“, a delicate piano ballad extolling the resilience of flowers able to survive the harsh conditions of winter: “See these flowers grow undeterred by the frost and snow. Hardy little souls, the cold does not faze. Beautiful and bright how they bask in the bleak winter’s light, unafraid of life’s changes.” The second part of the track is “Liberty For The Sailors“, a traditional song celebrating the return of the sailors. Catch The Sparrow’s lilting a capella vocals are accompanied by crashing waves, bringing this charming little EP full circle.

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Top 30 Songs for January 8-14, 2023

The ebullient earworm “Tonight” by French pop-rock band Phoenix featuring Vampire Weekend front man Ezra Koenig, holds at #1 for a second week. Sliding into the #2 spot is “I’m In Love With You” by The 1975, becoming their highest-charting song ever on my Weekly Top 30. “This Is Why” by Paramore moves up to #3, also making it their best-performing song ever on my chart. The haunting new wave gem “Shadows in the Dark” by The Star Crumbles moves up three spots to #4. Three songs make their debut this week: “Stick Season” by Vermont singer-songwriter Noah Kahan, “Lux Æterna” by metal rock veterans Metallica, and “Everything I Own” by Welsh singer-songwriter Dom Thomas, which I reviewed this past November.

Fun fact: Once again this week, there are three songs on this list by guys named ‘Sam’.

  1. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (1)
  2. I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU – The 1975 (4)
  3. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (5)
  4. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (7)
  5. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (2)
  6. OFFCUTS – Mount Famine (8)
  7. ANTI-HERO – Taylor Swift (9)
  8. SAIL AWAY – lovelytheband (10)
  9. SNAP – Rosa Linn (3)
  10. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (6)
  11. OUT OF MY SYSTEM – Louis Tomlinson (14)
  12. LOVE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE – Crystal Cities (16)
  13. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (17)
  14. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (18)
  15. DANCE FOR ME – Sam Rappaport (19)
  16. DISORDER – Columbia (20)
  17. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (21)
  18. SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (11)
  19. CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (12)
  20. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (13)
  21. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (24)
  22. UNHOLY – Sam Smith featuring Kim Petras (15)
  23. THEN IT ALL GOES AWAY – Dayglow (26)
  24. WILD AS THE WIND – HULLAH (27)
  25. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (28)
  26. PAGES – White Reaper (29)
  27. KILL BILL – SZA (30)
  28. STICK SEASON – Noah Kahan (N)
  29. LUX ÆTERNA – Metallica (N)
  30. EVERYTHING I OWN – Dom Thomas (N)

Top 30 Songs for January 1-7, 2023

Happy New Year! A new #1 song to start off the new year, as “Tonight” by French pop-rock band Phoenix, featuring added vocals by Vampire Weekend front man Ezra Koenig, takes over the top spot. For those unaware, Phoenix formed back in 1995 in Versailles, while its members were all in their teens, and still consists of the original lineup of Thomas Mars (lead vocals), Deck d’Arcy (bass/keyboards/backing vocals), Christian Mazzalai (guitar/backing vocals) and Laurent Brancowitz (guitar/keyboards/backing vocals), with Thomas Hedlund serving as their session and live drummer since 2005.

“Tonight” is from their seventh album Alpha Zulu, which was recorded at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a studio located within the Louvre Palace in Paris. About the collaboration with Koenig, band frontman Thomas Mars told NMEThere’s always been a synchronicity with us and Vampire Weekend.” Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz added that he was initially hesitant of the format: “I was saying ‘show me one classic song that’s a duet’. I was resisting, and then Thomas came back with a list of duets that were classics and I had to admit I was wrong.” I think it’s a terrific duet, as Mars’ and Koenig’s voices harmonize together beautifully. I also love the bass and energetic drumming on the track.

Here’s a performance of the song by just Phoenix on the British TV show Later with Jools Holland, which nicely showcases Thomas Hedlund’s impressive drumming:

In other chart developments, three songs enter the top 10 this week: “Shadows in the Dark” by The Star Crumbles, “Anti-Hero” by Taylor Swift, and “Sail Away” by lovelytheband. Two songs make their debut: “Pages” by American rock band White Reaper, at #29, and “Kill Bill” by American R&B singer-songwriter SZA, at #30.

  1. TONIGHT – Phoenix featuring Ezra Koenig (3)
  2. WHITE HORSES – Art Block (1)
  3. SNAP – Rosa Linn (2)
  4. I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU – The 1975 (8)
  5. THIS IS WHY – Paramore (9)
  6. WEIRD GOODBYES – The National featuring Bon Iver (6)
  7. SHADOWS IN THE DARK – The Star Crumbles (11)
  8. OFFCUTS – Mount Famine (10)
  9. ANTI-HERO – Taylor Swift (12)
  10. SAIL AWAY – lovelytheband (13)
  11. SPIT OF YOU – Sam Fender (4)
  12. CREST OF THE WAVE – Foals (5)
  13. SEX, DRUGS, ETC. – Beach Weather (7)
  14. OUT OF MY SYSTEM – Louis Tomlinson (16)
  15. UNHOLY – Sam Smith featuring Kim Petras (15)
  16. LOVE DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE – Crystal Cities (18)
  17. NIGHT BUS – Caitlin Lavagna (19)
  18. TROUBLE WITH THIS BED – Beach Weather (21)
  19. DANCE FOR ME – Sam Rappaport (22)
  20. DISORDER – Columbia (23)
  21. THE LONELIEST – Måneskin (24)
  22. PARTY4ONE – dwi (14)
  23. EDGING – Blink-182 (20)
  24. BACKPATTERS AND SHOOTERS – The Zangwills (27)
  25. THESE ARE THE DAYS – Inhaler (17)
  26. THEN IT ALL GOES AWAY – Dayglow (25)
  27. WILD AS THE WIND – HULLAH (29)
  28. MAYFLY – Callum Pitt (30)
  29. PAGES – White Reaper (N)
  30. KILL BILL – SZA (N)