There are some musicians and bands who possess such uniquely distinctive styles or singing voices, they sound like no one else, making their music immediately identifiable as only theirs. London, England-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Art Block falls into this esteemed category on the strength of his affecting vocals that are so heartfelt and steeped in emotion, they have the power to take our breath away as we try and swallow the huge lump in our throats that forms after listening to him sing.
The brilliant and prolific artist creates a haunting brand of alternative folk, characterized by stirring melodies, captivating arrangements and gorgeous instrumentation built around his poetic, deeply moving lyrics. He’s been writing and recording beautiful music for nearly a decade, and has released an impressive amount of it since early 2015. I’ve previously written about him and his music four times on this blog, including his enchanting single “The Basement” (his most successful single, which has been streamed over 350,000 times on Spotify alone) in late 2019 and, most recently, last September when I reviewed his stunning White Horses EP. The title track “White Horses” went all the way to #1 on my Weekly Top 30 chart last December.
Art Block has stayed busy in 2023, dropping a single “Vilnius” in February, then his first full-length album Stones and Fire in March, followed by Tiger EP, the subject of today’s review, at the end of April. Featuring four tracks, including “Vilnius” and an alternate version of “White Horses”, the EP was produced, recorded and mixed by William Robertson and mastered by John Webber. For the recording, Art played all instruments except for drums, which were played by Raphael Bouchara.
The title track “Tiger” opens with a strummed acoustic guitar, accompanied by mysterious airy synths and sounds taken from the streets of Cairo as Art begins to sing, with a strong tremolo effect in his voice, “A plain heart that cuts through all the acerbic dust.” As the song unfolds, the melody gradually swells and instrumentals expand with beautiful guitars, heavier synths and more intense percussion, all of which culminate into a dramatic crescendo. Like the music, the lyrics become more forceful too, with Art Block passionately lamenting of his pain and sorrow over having been left abandoned in a relationship: “A silence that kills, insatiable rips my tongue. A tiger has ripped my lungs, unable to breathe. A figure of speech, crawling through arctic veins. You left me when I needed a friend. A quarrelsome mind, and we don’t see we’re spinning all around as if it’s meant to be.”
“Vilnius” was inspired by Art’s visit to the Lithuanian capital last October, where he engaged with the Chromatikon artist collective who participated in a series of concerts intended to revive the old Jewish music of the Vilnius ghetto lost during Nazi occupation. Vilnius holds a special place in his heart, as he spent a year there as a volunteer for Voluntary Service Overseas after Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union. The lyrics seem to be told from the perspective of a young Jewish man witnessing the fall of Vilnius and Lithuania to the Nazis: “A Hebrew song, an old man’s lungs. Hold on my Vilnius. I see a cage and hold my rage. Hold on my Vilnius. I was meant to be playing C. Oh what a scene. Wasn’t yet an orphan. We were meant to meet in the dying streets but I forgot your number.” Art’s delicate acoustic guitar notes, accompanied by sparkling atmospheric synths and gentle drumbeats, create a melancholy but beautiful soundscape for his emotive, heartfelt vocals.
“White Horses (Alternate version)” is the same version that appears on Stones and Fire, and to my ears sounds very close to the original. For this alternate version, Art’s added some pretty guitar notes and more drawn-out string synths, as well as a drum machine beat, all of which add subtle textures to the original piano-driven track, making it even more gorgeous than ever. He says the song “was inspired by a beautiful place in England, but also by the attack in Mariupol, Ukraine which was in the news, where I imagined I was going through the devastation there. Perhaps ‘White Horses’ is a metaphor for something else, greater, perhaps mystical or mysterious? The place I visited in England certainly had a mystical feel even though the White Horse itself etched into a hill was not ancient.”
The final track “New Dawn” is a haunting piano ballad about struggling with inner demons and self-doubt that keep him from living a fuller and happier life: “I want to know when life will change, so I can reach out for a new day. Tired of manifesting, tired of love, I have a hole in my heart oh my God. I was always fighting with my thoughts, trying to find peace amid the wars. I was overthinking life, I was overcome with strife.” Art’s echoed vocals have an interesting lo-fi feel, backed by a vintage-sounding piano and Raphael’s skillful measured drums.
Tiger EP is wonderful, serving up eleven and a half minutes of auditory bliss that transports us to dreamy, faraway places. Art Block is a uniquely gifted artist who never fails to deliver exceptional music that’s deeply impactful, sonically beautiful and intensely thought-provoking.
Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in East London, England. A prolific artist, he’s been making beautiful music for a number of years, and has released an impressive number of singles, EPs and remixes since early 2015, beginning with his debut L.A.-inspired single “Los Feliz”. I’ve featured him three times on this blog, the first time in November 2019 when I reviewed his enchanting song “The Basement”. The song has become his most successful to date, amassing over 290,000 streams on Spotify, which is notable in light of the fact he not represented by any label or management. A year later, I reviewed his lovely single “Borderline”, then this past March, I included his single “Pilgrim” in a post about my having been a moderator for Tom Robinson’s Fresh On The Net blog.
Now he returns with a new EP titled White Horses EP, featuring three tracks he says were “inspired by the beauty of nature but also touching upon war, themes of death, loss and the bitter sweet nature of human existence.” The EP was recorded at Super Symmetry Studios in Hackney, utilizing a mix of both analog and digital sounds that give the songs incredible texture and depth. William Robertson aka Wheeliemix produced, mixed and engineered the EP using Moog synthesizers, as well as played acoustic guitar, Raphael Bouchara played drums, and Sandra Brus played violin. Mastering was done by John Webber (David Bowie, Duran Duran). Art Block created the beautiful cover artwork for his EP using a photo he’d taken of the English countryside.
In addition to beautiful melodies and captivating arrangements, a defining aspect of Art Block’s songs are his tender, heartfelt vocals. With his incredibly emotive singing voice, he has the ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair, which is on full display on all three songs. The first track “Saviour” speaks of a relationship that saved him at first, but ultimately ended because of the hurt and pain they inflicted on each other: “It was a travesty. Unjust unliberty. Hurting those around you. Building walls between ourselves. We knocked our brains out cold. Drank from the cup untold. Floored by passion and the drink. Makes us do what we don’t think. You were a precious stone. Now I am all alone. I’m fading, yeah I’m fading. We dug our grave too soon.” It’s a melancholy but lovely song, highlighted by Art Block’s stunning piano and Sandra Brus’ mournful violin.
“White Horses” is another hauntingly beautiful piano-driven song with a somewhat similar vibe as “Saviour”, except Art Block’s vocals are more emotionally-wrought in the choruses. He says the song “was inspired by a beautiful place in England, but also by the attack in Mariupol Ukraine which was in the news, where I imagined I was going through the devastation there. Perhaps ‘White Horses’ is a metaphor for something else, greater, perhaps mystical or mysterious? The place I visited in England certainly had a mystical feel even though the White Horse itself etched into a hill was not ancient.” His lyrics are poetic and deep, touching on the terrifying randomness of death and suffering: “We bear our own cross. And the people may wonder why God’s left them alone? The wind is burning. There’s so much smoke cos’ you’re coughing up blood now. The poem has ceased. And the soil is all over me, I’m six feet deep.“
The bittersweet “Low Light” is both captivating and melancholy. Art Block’s vocals are downright heartbreaking here, perfectly conveying the intense pain and heartache of a relationship or friendship that’s falling apart, but not wanting to come to terms with it just yet: “A friendship ooh has crumbled. Ooh we’ve stumbled, as we break into dust. A fear I don’t wanna see. A light I don’t want feel. A low light I don’t wanna see. A change I don’t wanna make tonight.” Art Block’s piano is sublime, accompanied by airy synths, William’s shimmery guitar notes, Sandra’s subtle electric violin, and Raphael’s gentle drums and cymbals that evoke waves crashing upon rocks at the sea’s edge.
While it’s subject matter is decidedly bleak, White Horse EP is nevertheless a gorgeous little work. With its flawless arrangements, production and performances by everyone involved, the three songs are among Art Block’s finest yet. The EP was released exclusively on Bandcamp today, September 2nd, and will be released on most streaming platforms on the 23rd.
PORTS is a talented four-piece based in Derry, Northern Ireland who formed in 2012 while at music college. Influenced by such acts as Phosphorescent, Big Thief, Andy Shauf, Aldous Harding and Stars of the Lid, their music is an incredibly pleasing blend of folk, indie rock and shoegaze. They released their beautiful debut single “Ancient Wave” in 2014, then followed with several more singles which culminated in the release in 2016 of their album The Devil is a Songbird, featuring 13 stunning tracks. It’s really outstanding, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out.
The guys then toured extensively throughout the UK, the US, Canada and Australia in support of the album, garnering play and live performances on numerous BBC radio channels and MTV, which earned them a strong following. Additionally, eight of the songs from their album have been used in a number of TV shows, including Teen Wolf, Bloodlands, Awkward, Wild Ireland and Love in a Day. Collectively, their songs have been streamed more than 3.2 million times on Spotify alone.
The band took a brief hiatus after touring, then began writing and recording songs again in early 2020, before Covid brought things to a halt. Nevertheless, they managed to drop another lovely single “Reading in the Dark” in August 2020, and once restrictions against gathering together were lifted, they continued with writing and recording songs for their forthcoming second album Wild Awake, replacing some of those they’d previously written with new ones. The songs on the new album will feature a mix of folk rock, Cajun, and electronic lo-fi shoegaze soundscapes. One of the tracks to be included on the new album is “Swimming Pool“.
Band member Steven McCool explains their inspiration behind the song: “During our short hiatus, we didn’t know what we wanted from the band. We had some discussions on what direction to go and what sound we should create, but it became frustrating. When we decided to start writing again we decided we’d stop overthinking and just write. We were just messing about between takes and ‘Swimming Pool’ started to take form. The music and melody fell together within minutes, so we decided to record it. We were using a new lyric writing technique, where we would imagine a scene. So I said I can see someone diving into a swimming pool at night in slow motion. The song ultimately became a metaphor for our emotions, if you fight them they become harder to manoeuvre. So, like swimming you just go with it and it gets easier the more relaxed you are.”
The song is beautiful, with a serene, contemplative vibe that nicely conveys the feeling of someone slowly gliding through the waters of a swimming pool. PORTS creates this enchanting soundscape through the use of a lush array of instruments, including what sounds like cello and mellotron, along with lovely piano keys, gently strummed acoustic and twangy guitars, subtle bass and delicate drums. The warm, soothing vocals, who I’m guessing are Steven’s, perfectly complement the music.
When you held your breath til' the sun came down
Beneath the surface a muffled sound
When you can't make out the synthetic sea
Bead of air attempt to flee
Can't stop the overflow round your body
It's just a motion, these emotions
You can let it go, let it move on
It's just a motion, these emotionsYou sink back down and the picture slows
Projected chaos above you glows
The water breaks to reveal the sky
A road to take reflects in your eye
Can't stop the overflow round your body
It's just a motion, these emotions
You can let it go, let it move on
It's just a motion, these emotions
The beautiful video shows gauzy images of the band performing the song interspersed with those of a swimmer slowly gliding through the water, all filmed in a deep shade of blue.
Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, the exceptionally talented and undeniably attractive couple who call their music project almost sex have been on a creative tear since the release of their debut single “Knockoff” in September 2020. In the 16 months since, they’ve dropped nine more singles at the rate of one every 6-7 weeks, the latest of which is “Lucille“. I first learned about them a year ago when I read a great review of their beautiful second single “Charmer” by fellow blogger The Alternative Mixtapes, who posited that “their name is meant to imply that their music is almost as good as sex.” As smitten with them as I now am, he subsequently wrote about them two more times. The duo followed me on Instagram a few months ago, and I’ve decided it’s high time I featured them on my own blog.
Consisting of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Nick Louis and architect, multi-media artist and musician Warren LaSota, almost sex met online through a dating app during the first Covid lockdown in early Spring 2020. Little did they realize at the time that they were forming not only a romantic relationship, but also an artistic one too. Nick and Warren began sharing poetry, song lyrics and music demos back and forth over the internet, and two months later they finally met in person, whereupon they recorded and subsequently released “Knockoff.”
Drawing from elements of folk, post punk, alternative rock, electronica and indie bedroom pop, their sound is richly varied and eclectic. Consequently, none of their songs sound alike, and I love every single one of them. Nick has a distinctive and endearing vocal style that reminds me somewhat of Passenger on songs like “Charmer”, “Swallow”, “Part of You” and “Lucille”, grandson on “Collapse”, and like no one else on the rest. Warren’s bewitching ethereal harmonies nicely complement Nick’s vocals on several tracks.
Their latest offering “Lucille” is the lead single from their forthcoming debut EP We’re Okay, due out on April 1st. Co-written, produced, mixed and mastered by Ken Helmlinger, the song has a rather melancholy vibe, with a languid melody driven by Nick’s strummed acoustic guitar, and accompanied by a subtle but resonant bassline and nice drum fills. Little instrumental touches like the gentle finger-plucked guitar notes and enchanting sounds from what I’m guessing is a mellotron add some interesting textures to the song.
Nick’s warm, vulnerable-sounding vocals convey a sad resignation as he softly croons the lyrics addressing the end of a relationship with a woman named Lucille that wasn’t meant to be, and relieved it’s finally over: “And after all these complications, I really should be grateful it’s the end. / Cause time wasnever on our side. Lucille, goodbye.” Warren’s backing harmonies in the choruses are sublime, making for a really lovely track.
One of the best acts making music today is indie folk-rock band Lord Huron. Regular followers of my blog know I’m a huge fan of theirs, and their gorgeous single “Mine Forever” is currently enjoying a long stay atop my Weekly Top 30. The song recently peaked at #2 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay (AAA) chart. For those still unaware of Lord Huron’s music, “Mine Forever” is a perfect introduction, as the song is both breathtaking and catchy. Those twangy, borderline surf guitars are gorgeous, and together with the soaring strings, captivating vocal harmonies and infectious toe-tapping groove, it all comes together to create a truly phenomenal track.
Their uniquely beautiful music is a glorious mash-up of folk, western, rock and roll, pop, surf rock and new age, and has been described by a few music writers as evoking the ‘high-lonesome’ sound of such legendary acts as The Band and Neil Young, as well as newer acts like Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket. The most striking features of their sound are the lush twangy and shimmery guitars, backed by stirring orchestral strings, and lead singer Ben Schneider’s achingly beautiful vocals, which have an arresting and heartfelt vulnerability. For me, listening to their music is an almost religious experience, transporting me to a dreamy, faraway place somewhere out in the open West. The cinematic quality of their music makes many of their songs perfect candidates for the soundtrack of a sweeping Western epic.
Lord Huron was formed by singer-songwriter and guitarist Ben Schneider as a solo act in 2010, after he relocated from Michigan to Los Angeles. The name was inspired by Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes that border Michigan. The band eventually grew into a four-piece, and now includes Miguel Briseño on bass, keyboards & theremin, Tom Renaud on guitar, and Mark Barry on drums & percussion. They released their debut album Lonesome Dreams in 2012, but I didn’t learn about them until 2017, when I heard their beautiful ballad “The Night We Met”, from their second album Strange Trails. Their biggest hit thus far, the song has been streamed more than 857 million times on Spotify, and is one of my favorites of 2017.
“Mine Forever” is from their critically acclaimed fourth album Long Lost, an ambitious and stunning work released this past May, and featuring 13 songs plus three brief interludes. Every one of the 13 tracks is outstanding, and I think it’s hands down one of the best albums of 2021. Another one of the album’s singles, “Not Dead Yet”, topped both my Weekly Top 30 and the Billboard AAA chart this past June. I strongly urge everyone to set aside some time to listen to the album, because you’ll be glad you did. Even a few friends of mine who aren’t that much into music have remarked on how good it is.
The song’s lyrics seem to describe an obsessive and dysfunctional love-hate relationship, in which the singer feels he can’t live with nor without his lover. Lord Huron tends to make quirky entertaining story videos featuring a mix of newly-filmed and vintage B-movie footage, and the one for “Mine Forever” is no exception. The song ends with blurry images of a couple embracing as a woman speaks words in French. I love it!
Here’s the Spotify link of Long Lost for those who wish to check out the full album:
Granfalloon is the music project of Manchester, England-based singer-songwriter, producer and guitarist Richard Lomax. Using acoustic guitars, synthesizers and unusual instruments such as vintage Omnichords and drum loops, he creates his own unique and pleasing style of music that’s a hybrid of lo-fi alternative folk, experimental and electronica. His warm, soothing vocals are wonderful, reminding me at times of U2 front man Bono. We’ve followed each other on Twitter for several years, but I’ve been remiss by never having featured him on this blog. I’m now remedying that sorry situation on the occasion of the release of his new single “Working On Your Own“.
According to bio info provided on his website, Lomax became a musician later than most, and when he did, in 2003, it felt, in his words “like opening a door from a world of black and white to a universe bathed in a spectrum of mesmerising colour.” He took an avant-garde music course, and after honing his skills fronting surf rock bands and the psychedelic folk-pop collective Johnny5thWheel&thecowards, he relocated to Manchester in 2013. Granfalloon was born in 2017 after an operation temporarily left him with limited mobility. While in recovery, he recorded his debut album Down There For Dancing. He performed most of the music using his acoustic guitar, Omnichord and lo-fi drum machines, although he was assisted by a few musicians on added guitar, bass and percussion on some tracks. It’s a lovely work, and I strongly encourage my readers to check it out on one of the music platforms listed at the end of this post.
He released his beautiful second album RGB in 2019, this time with assistance from a greater number of musicians to help him produce larger, more fully-realized soundscapes. He also began touring the UK and Europe as a full band, as well as performing at Bluedot Festival. RGB‘s singles garnered airplay on BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music.
He’s now set to release this third album Positive Songs in August, featuring 11 tracks produced for The Positive Song Project, which was launched by Lomax and his friend Lobelia Lawson during the first lockdown of 2020. He invited songwriters to create new music, challenging themselves to focus on positive aspects and feelings. Lomax elaborates: “The idea formed from a conversation I was having with Lobelia Lawson, the co-founder of PSP, about how a lot of inspiration for our songs comes from a place of introspection or melancholia, anger or pain. We thought we would challenge ourselves & other musicians to focus on positive songwriting. Maybe it began as a way of managing anxiety or as a refusal to let the cancellation of gigs completely take music away but it soon become this weird positive energy… this propulsive force which grew into something very special.” Thus far, the project has resulted in the creation of over 300 tracks by artists from around the world.
“Working On Your Own” is the second single from Positive Songs, following the first single “Who You Are”, which was released in June. Lomax states the song “had such a strange journey, starting off as an intensely personal one about the loneliness of shift work, and then when Lockdown started it became perversely relatable.” For the recording of the track, Lomax played guitar and sang vocals, Daz Woodcock played bass, synths and sang backing vocals, Thirds played guitar, piano and sang backing vocals, Richard Jupp played drums, Andy Lyth played percussion and Maya McCourt played cello.
The song has a mellow, easy listening vibe, with touches of folk and jazz that make for a calm, yet compelling groove. Each of the instruments are allowed to shine, from the gentle acoustic guitar notes, subtle bassline and jazzy drums to the charming baby piano keys, cool percussion and lovely cello. Lomax’s smooth vocals are sublime, with a sophisticated air that’s still accessible and comforting as he earnestly sings about our human need for connection, and the loneliness of working the late shift where there’s no one to talk to or engage with. Woodcock’s and Thirds’ backing harmonies are really nice too.
Shift workers of the world unite
And bathe yourself in Picadilly's multicolored lights
When the human touch that means so much
Is a phantom limb on social crutches
Keep a little kind in your heart
When you're working on your own
On the edge, on the edges of civilization
Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week
If you download the song on Bandcamp, you’ll also receive an exclusive free bonus download of Granfalloon’s cover of the Zombies’ song “Care Of Cell 44”.
There’s a tremendous amount of talent throughout the music world, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about quite a few truly gifted artists in my five-plus years of blogging. One of the most remarkable of them all is Kristian Møller, a young singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist who’s now based primarily in Copenhagen, Denmark. Not only is he insanely creative and artistically brilliant, he’s also smart, thoughtful, funny and kind. He’s handsome too, though so free of vanity that, unlike a lot of artists who have scores of photos of themselves plastered across their social media accounts, Kristian has almost none. Hence the only photo he provided is the rather spooky avatar of himself that he created, shown above.
I first learned about Kristian in 2017 when he was based in London and a member of the alternative band From the Cave. I featured them and their delightfully eclectic music several times on this blog between November 2017 and April 2019, shortly after which they split up, much to my chagrin. Fortunately, he continued to record music as a solo artist, and over the past three years has released four ambitious, genre-bending albums, beginning in September 2018 with the trippy, experimental work Gamble. He followed with two albums in quick succession in 2019 – Incomplete in August, featuring 16 tracks, and I’m the Fucking Producer in December, containing a mind-boggling 23 tracks! I especially like the title track, a marvelous take down of music producers: “I’m the fucking producer, I’m going to ruin your tune. I take the life out of it, and I make it better, better”, but I digress…
On February 21st, Kristian dropped his fourth album Caldo, an exquisite and loving tribute to his Spanish heritage, specifically, his mother’s homeland of Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean that’s part of Spain. He explained to me that the album’s title “Caldo” means “broth” in Spanish, adding: “The broth plays a big part in some traditional dishes that my family – and especially my Spanish grandparents – cook.” (He plans to follow up later this year with another album of songs sung in Danish as a tribute to his father’s and his homeland of Denmark.)
The album is nearly epic in scope, running 55 minutes and featuring 18 songs, 14 of which are sung entirely in Spanish, as well as four instrumentals. When Kristian first approached me about reviewing this album, I was a bit apprehensive, as both its length and the fact it was sung entirely in Spanish presented a potentially daunting task. He kindly translated his lyrics into English for me, and once I began listening to the songs, my trepidation quickly evaporated as I found myself thoroughly enchanted by their breathtaking beauty.
Case in point is the opening track “Son Verí“, a beautiful ode to the Mallorcan seaside town where his family has a home: “From the moment I was born, there’s always been a place for me, in Son Verí / In every rock there are stories and thousands of memories that can’t be forgotten.” Kristian’s strummed Spanish guitar is stunning, and his baritone vocals have an earnest vulnerability that’s both comforting and deeply moving. He also creates wonderful, imaginative videos for many of his songs, and the one for “Son Verí” nicely captures the warmth and sun-kissed beauty of his family’s Mallorcan home.
On the next song “Invitación” (Invitation), he continues singing his praises of Mallorca: “I invite you to the view of the cathedral / I invite you to the view of the mountains and the ocean / I invite you to the sun and the nights filled with moonlight / I invite you to the tower of Cala Pi, pa amb oli and olives / We can have dinner together and be joyful people.” Once again, his strummed acoustic guitar work is sublime, only this time complemented by a deep bass groove and a gorgeous atmospheric organ riff.
Besides extolling Mallorca’s virtues, Kristian weaves other subjects such as romantic love, the importance of family, and even his frustrations over the political upheaval that resulted in Brexit, into the narrative of some tracks. On “Tranquila” (Don’t Worry), he sings of his love for another, even though he must leave them: “You know that I’ve enjoyed our time together/ Even though I sometimes lose myself in the things I say, there’s something else that is about to begin / Yet again, I feel the need to make mistakes.” And on “Fuego” (Fire), he compares his passions for – and challenges of – making music with making love: “One hand in hell, another hand in heaven / In the tongue of heat, in the musical notes of pain / The orchestras of the sun live inside of your bedroom.“
Like he did with From the Cave’s music, Kristian skillfully melds together disparate music elements like rock, hip hop, punk and electronic with Spanish folk and flamenco to create his own unique sound. On “Mallorca“, he combines acoustic Spanish guitar notes with a hypnotic dubstep beat to create a contemplative backdrop for his monotonal vocals as he sings of escaping to Mallorca to relieve his stress over worrying about his music career and trying to please everyone: “I’ve attempted it time and time again / I’ve tried it and I always want to be another person just to please everybody / I say “yes” way too quickly / “Yes” – what a load of shit / Here I am, stressed out once again, I need to slow down. Every day I wake up in a hurry to impress / Release yet another song that’s true / I’ve done it more than a hundred times / And so what? In the end, what difference does it make?”
On the rousing “Basura” (Trash), he rails against autocratic leaders like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, and how their divisive rhetoric damages their countries: “People with weird wigs who have presidencies / I want to be better than this / And you can be better than this trash without any shame / We don’t have any other option but to remove these people who don’t have any compassion for the people around them / It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong, they are completely mental.” I love the lively Spanish folk rock vibe and bold, colorful instrumentation and his emphatic vocals. Kristian created a wonderfully trippy animated video showing a fearsome prehistoric-looking creature pulling a large cart containing what appears to be a town square filled with piles of trash and strange robed men with antlers. His avatar stands at a console, controlling the proceedings as they all fly over the countryside, with several plates containing fried eggs circling overhead like flying saucers.
As the album proceeds, the great songs keep coming, including four gorgeous and compelling instrumentals: “Manzana” (Apple), “Agosto” (August), “Aleppo” and “La Casa De Los Abuelos” (The House Of The Grandparents). One of my many favorites on Caldo is “Salsa De Tomate” (Tomato Sauce), a beautiful, uplifting song celebrating the healing powers of food and family: “The plants are growing in your garden and they look like the ones in Son Verí / This black cloud will leave one day / The birds are flying above the wall / We’re people, We’re friends, We’re family.” The song has a powerful, driving beat overlain with enchanting strummed Spanish guitars and haunting flutes that give the song a wonderful Incan vibe. Kristian’s warm vocals are sublime, and the airy, female backing vocals add a nice touch to the song.
“Patatas” (Potatoes) is yet another standout track, with bold strummed guitar notes accompanied by psychedelic synths and snappy percussion that produce a captivating Spanish punk sound. “El Caballero Oscuro” (The Dark Knight) is great too, with its dark, spooky synths, strong driving beat and terrific guitar work. Kristian doesn’t mince words as he tells a lover of his carnal intentions: “I want to be your dark knight / I want to see your face and your ass / I want to return, a tough guy who has a chance of becoming something / In the corner of my mind I’m a good guy who acts way too nicely / And that’s exactly why it isn’t working between us. I’m an animal, In my gut, inside of my medieval soul there’s something else to liberate / Because, I’m the dark knight and today I want to kick it hard.”
The pleasing title track “Caldo” closes the album, summing up its overriding theme of finding solace in the enduring traditions of family, friends and food in a home we love: “Palma de Mallorca /We’re tourists and we’re locals / The broth of life / The broth of tradition / The broth of life.”
I had a lovely chat with Kristian, who graciously answered my questions about his upbringing, career choices and inspiration behind Caldo’s creation.
EML: You are truly multi-cultural Kristian. I know your father is Danish and mother is from Mallorca, which is part of Spain, and I believe you were born in Denmark, is that correct? Where were you raised, and/or did you spend time growing up in both Denmark and Mallorca?
Kristian: I was born in Copenhagen but I spent the majority of my childhood living in Palma De Mallorca. When I turned 12 we moved back to Copenhagen. I’ve been lucky to experience both cultures – the Danish and the Spanish sides – fully. Both my parents speak each-other’s languages fluently so I guess we’ve always had it all very blended together at home.
EML: When you and I first connected, you were living in London. How did you come to live there?
Kristian: Initially I applied for a songwriting degree in Copenhagen, but wasn’t accepted. Then I began looking for other options and we found a songwriting degree in London. I ended up staying in the city for 5 years. I’m glad it turned out that way.
EML: While in London, you had a terrific band From the Cave who played a wonderfully eclectic style of alternative rock with lots of exotic and ethnic elements. I loved your music, and reviewed quite a bit of it before you and your fellow band members decided to call it quits in summer 2019. What made you all decide to end From the Cave, and for you to subsequently relocate from London to Mallorca, or do you now split your time between Mallorca and London and/or Copenhagen?
Kristian: Thanks man. We always loved your reviews and they provided us with a lot of moral support. I think I realized that I wasn’t going to stay permanently in London. It was very expensive to get by. The prospect of a hard Brexit also creeped in on everyone. I realized I could move to our summer house in Spain, without having to pay rent. I felt that quitting everything – including my job at a recording studio – to focus on our own music was a slightly scary but necessary step. There are other aspects to the story that I won’t go into detail with, but I’m very happy that all of us (including past From The Cave members) have been friends first and band-members second. We still keep in touch and I look forward to seeing everyone soon. We really had a great run and so many awesome memories and experiences came from the project. I’m thankful for all of it. I’m now based in Copenhagen but I also spend several months a year in Spain.
EML: Caldo is the first of two albums you’re making that pay homage to your dual Spanish and Danish heritage, and is a kind of beautiful love letter to Mallorca. What inspired you to want to make these two albums?
Kristian: During the 7 years that I lived abroad I found it hard to choose which family I should visit during the holidays. When you have your family spread out over two different countries – and you live in a third place – it becomes a bit tricky. I’m very close to both my families, and it felt wrong not seeing them more often. When I moved to Spain I was finally able to make up for some of the lost time. Eight months later, when the pandemic hit, I had just arrived in Denmark to visit my Danish grandparent. During that stay I wrote the first song of the Danish album which will be released later this year. At the same time, my cousin had been sending me some short stories that he had been writing. They were really honest and beautiful. They took place in our own world, the world of our families. It found it very inspiring to read. In a way I think it also opened a door for me lyrically.
EML: The songs on Caldo are quite beautiful and melodic, nicely conveying images of an enchanting and fulfilling life on Mallorca. Many of the tracks touch on food and its importance to the culture, but others speak of the vagaries of love and passion. What were some of your inspirations for the songs, both musically and lyrically?
Kristian: Thank you, that’s very kind of you. The running theme of food is something – I must admit – I stole from one of my favourite bands: Sleaford Mods. In their album Eton Alive, they use food as metaphor and red thread throughout the album. I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. It made me think about the role that food plays in our own family. For us it’s a central gathering point. A ritual where we show love and care for each-other through these traditions. Even meeting up for a coffé has a powerful symbolic value. I try not to be too nostalgic, but I feel like these things are a remedy for coping with the rapid passing of time. At least I feel like daily life is gradually accelerating more and more. This gives these rituals even more importance.
EML: You stated that you wrote, recorded and produced the album in your family’s basement. Did you do everything yourself? A few songs, such as “Salsa de Tomate” have female background vocals. Who sang them?
Kristian: Yes, I did everything here on my own. But I can’t claim that I’ve done it alone. My family have been incredibly supportive throughout the process, and I’ve shared all of the demos and demos and more demos… some more demos…with them on the go. Their company has been fundamental. On top of that my parents paid for some equipment, the guitar that I’ve used on everything on the album, and helped me make the home-studio in our basement. We really went all in on this thing haha! In response to all of that support I’ve given it everything I had. We would go on daily walks and talk through the ideas and the process. The vocals on “Salsa de Tomate” are from my aunt Ñesi. She’s a songwriter herself and she’s preparing the launch of her solo project soon. I’ve heard her new songs and they’re amazing. My two nieces are also singing in the background of the third chorus of the song. My aunt heard them sing the song spontaneously during her recording and then recorded it for me as a surprise.
EML: That was sweet of her! Is there anything you’d like to add that I may have neglected to ask?
Kristian: I would just like to thank you for taking the time to do this review and showing some genuine interest in the project. I really appreciate it and it’s been very fun to answer your questions. I look forward to continuing making music and try to enjoy it as much as possible. Muchas gracias!
Thank YOU, Kristian, for bringing the world some badly-needed joy and pleasure with your beautiful album. Listening to it is an immersive experience, and should be heard in its entirety to fully appreciate the beauty and brilliance of its many musical textures and sounds. In my not so humble opinion, Caldo is a masterpiece, and I implore my readers to do yourselves a big favor by taking the time to give it a full listen, and let its songs envelop you like they do for me!
This past April, I featured Swedish alternative folk artist A Choir of Ghosts when I reviewed his exquisite debut album An Ounce of Gold. It’s an impressive and stunning work that turned me into a fan of this talented young man. The musical alter-ego of British-born but now Sweden-based singer-songwriter James Auger, A Choir of Ghosts creates beautiful songs drawing from folk, Americana, and pop-rock influences. He’s now returned with a lovely new single “Skin & Bones“, released on November 20th through his label Greywood Records.
Auger provided a bit of background for his inspiration in writing “Skin & Bones”: “The song is about the realization that you can’t always ‘fix it’ for the people you love. Sometimes they have to solve it themselves, and you can’t do anything but watch and hope for the best. In order for things to grow to its full potential, you sometimes have to let go. It’s a hard realization but I think a lot of people can identify with the feeling of sudden emptiness, when you come to something in your way that you cannot share, but rather have to go about alone. Your only hope lays in that once the obstacle has been passed, you can rendezvous on the other side.”
“Skin & Bones” has a simple but enchanting melody, highlighted by his beautifully-strummed acoustic guitar work and warm, comforting vocals that make for a pleasing listening experience. His vocals grow more emotional in the chorus as he assures a loved one that she has his support while she works through her issues:
It’s cold when you’re not home Holding on to our skin and bones You said it’ll be alright But I can’t be there, to take the fight Hold on darling, You won’t get nowhere if you run I’ll pray for you Till the morning comes The silence when we speak Our dreams are far too weak I can see it on my own The wuthering heights, and the crushing lows Hold on darling, You won’t get nowhere if you run I’ll pray for you Till the morning comes
The video was filmed and directed by Dorian Vergensson this past summer in the beautiful Swedish countryside.
Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. A prolific musician, he’s been making beautiful music for several years, and has released multiple singles and EPs since 2015, including his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions album in 2019, and The Basement EP this past March. Last November (2019), I reviewed the haunting title single “The Basement”, which you can read here.
Over the past few months, he’s been releasing remastered versions of some of his earlier songs. One of them is “Borderline“, a beautiful but melancholy song about the lingering pain from a love that’s faded away. The music and lyrics were written by Art Block, who played the electro-acoustic guitar. The Electric and steel guitars were played by Ben Walker, who also produced and mixed the track. Aurora Dolby did the remastering.
The guitar work is sublime, particularly Walker’s mournful steel guitar that gives the song a bit of a Country feel, as well as creating a stunning backdrop for Art Block’s tender, heartfelt vocals. He has a lovely and incredibly emotive singing voice, with an ability to convey a deep sense of sorrow and despair as he sadly laments: “What must I do? To win the fair alliance with you? Why don’t you shred my soul? ‘Cos our love is so weak and old. Who are the lost ones walking with me? Who are the wounded all I can see? Oh, Borderline in the sea. Oh, cross the line here with me. Oh, Borderline.”
It’s a wonderful song, with a quiet intensity and poignancy that rips at our heartstrings.
Polyhymns is an experimental/alternative folk act based in Sheffield, England, having one of the more uniquely eclectic sounds of any artists I’ve heard in a while. Formed a year ago, the trio consist of Andrew Bolam, Gavin Harris and Sam Smith, all of whom previously worked together in folktronica group Little Glitches. With their shared love for such disparate artists as Burt Bacharach and Aphex Twin, they meld experimental electronic elements with psychedelia and folk to create exquisite music that transcends genres and demands our attention.
This past April, they released their debut single “Down with the Kids”, a lovely and poignant folk-pop song about parenthood and isolation in the digital age. They followed in July with the more experimental and trippy “How Ya Doin'”, and now return with their debut four-track EP Hybrid Sunday, which drops today, September 4th. The EP is also being released as a Limited Edition 10” Lathe Cut Vinyl with Sheffield’s Do It Thissen Record Label.
The EP’s title was inspired by the fact that the band writes and records their music on Sunday mornings in Sheffield’s Hybrid 3 Studio. Because the guys found they were often competing with noise from other bands rehearsing and recording in the studio’s other room, they decided Sunday mornings were the best time to ensure the peace and quiet necessary for optimum recording of their own music. During the recording of Hybrid Sunday, they also received guidance from local electronic music wizard Rob Gordon (founder of Warp Records), who lent them his Korg synthesiser and mastered the EP.
The first track “JK” is a pleasing alt-folk tune, opening with strummed acoustic guitar and gentle handclaps. Soon, an insistent drumbeat enters along with vocals as the music rises with a flourish of synths and wildly crashing cymbals, giving the song a greater sense of urgency. I’m not certain as to the meaning of the lyrics “Again and again I try / Worry how far the others are / Dragging my heels again / Means nothing to me“, but the band states they celebrate diversity in learning.
Polyhymns goes off into a completely different direction with “Unboxers“, a languid atmospheric track lasting nearly six minutes. Over a throbbing dub bass-driven groove, the guys layer spacey industrial synths, crisp percussion and reverb-soaked guitar to create a dreamy, ethereal soundscape. Their soaring vocal harmonies in the first half of the track are sublime.
The enchanting “Toes” is probably my favorite track, with its beautiful skittering synths, razor-sharp percussion, deep bass and those intriguing bleep sounds. And once again, we’re treated to the guys’ soothing vocal croons: “If you try so hard you can get so far off a memory. If you think you’ve failed, then start it again, let’s begin.” The final track “Glyn” is a captivating instrumental composition highlighted by a fantastic psychedelic organ riff. The song starts off with a funky bass loop and crisp hi-hat beats that lend a jazzy vibe, but once the organ enters the proceedings, the song really takes off into the sonic stratosphere.
Hybrid Sunday is an amazing little EP, with four totally unique tracks that couldn’t sound more different from each other. I also find the song titles, which seem to have little to do with the subject matter, quite interesting. I’m really impressed by the creativity and talent of these three musicians, and cannot wait to hear what they come up with next!