POLYHYMNS – EP Review: “Hybrid Sunday”

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!

Follow Polyhymns:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream their music:  SpotifySoundcloudApple Music

Purchase:  BandcampGoogle PlayAmazon

SORICAH – EP Review: “Let the Fire Burn Free”

Soricah

Soricah is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer whose music is influenced by her rich international and multi-cultural heritage. Being of Irish/Mauritian ancestry and having spent various times of her childhood and adulthood living in Ireland, Africa, Mauritius and London, her exposure to a wide range of music and people give her music a unique sound that’s a blending of genres and styles. Formerly a member of the band Rebekah Met Sarah, Soricah has also performed as a solo artist in London and Ireland. She has supported musical acts such as The Palma Violets and renowned cellist Jo Quail, and has been a frequent collaborator with members of The Artist Community of Studio 180, and the East London artistic warehouse scene. She’s also been featured on a number of projects with different artists, and her collaborations have been aired on Freakfm, BBC Radio One and a variety of Irish and International radio stations.

She currently splits her time between Kent, England and Dublin, Ireland, and recently dropped her debut EP Let the Fire Burn Free, featuring four tracks written and sung by her. She also played acoustic guitars on the tracks, and co-produced the EP with Daniel Doherty, who played electric guitar, bass and drums. Gary Molloy played cello and piano, and the songs were mastered by renowned British mastering engineer Pete Maher. The artwork was designed by Valerie Pezeron.

The first track “Waiting” is a beautiful song, with a sultry melody that conjures up images of a beach bathed by warm tropical breezes. Both musically and vocally, the song has a definite Lana Del Ray vibe. A distinctive element is Gary Molloy’s gorgeous fluttering cello, which gives the track a haunting, dreamlike sound. Soricah’s strummed acoustic guitar and smooth, sensuous vocals are complemented by Daniel Doherty’s sultry bass line and crisp percussion. The lyrics speak of intense passion and longing for someone, which Soricah seductively croons “Come a little closer. Feel my body move. My heart is beating faster, waiting for you/ You take me away into the stars is where I’ll stay. Waiting for you, waiting for you.”

Back to Him” is an interesting song, and a perfect example of how Soricah skillfully blends a mix of cultural elements into her music. The song has a delightful, exotic-sounding Latin or gypsy folk melody. The colorful and spirited acoustic and electric guitars are fantastic, and I love Daniel’s distinctive bass line and assertive drumbeats. The lyrics are also interesting, spoken to a lover – either a man or woman – who appears to be confused and conflicted about their sexuality: “You change your faces every day. One minute you’re in love, then you’re running away. Back to him.”

On the title track “Let the Fire Burn Free“, Gary’s vibrant cello takes a starring role, giving the song a lush classical feel, though the lively guitars, bass and drums keep it in folk-rock territory. The song seems to be about freeing oneself from the judgments of others that diminish your own sense of self-worth: “How could you blame yourself, when it was good it was the best. And how could you be such a mess, when you tried to be honest? And how could you cause so much stress, with the family there’s no contest.”

Juliette” is a lovely song of affirmation and self-worth, with lyrics assuring a woman that she doesn’t need a man to make her whole: “And Juliette, you don’t need no Romeo. You’d be better off alone.” The beautiful tinkling piano keys and soaring cello are the musical highlights here, and Soricah’s warm vocals are sublime as always.

Let the Fire Burn Free is a wonderful little EP with four excellent tracks, each having a distinctively different sound. Through a rich mix of stylistic elements and lush instrumentation, Soricah and her fellow musicians have crafted a highly satisfying work.

Follow Soricah:  FacebookTwitterInstagram
Stream her music:  SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloudYouTube
Purchase:  Google PlayAmazon

New Song of the Week – ART BLOCK: “The Basement”

Art Block

Art Block is an alternative folk singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from East London, England. He’s been making beautiful music for several years, beginning with his 2015 debut L.A.-inspired single “Los Feliz”. He’s released multiple singles and EPs in the years since, most recently his Pete Maher-produced Acoustic Sessions earlier this year. Today he drops his latest single “The Basement“, a haunting track I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song was written and performed by Art Block and produced by Ian Barter (Amy Winehouse, Izzy Bizu, Paloma Faith).

The song opens with a softly strummed guitar accompanying Art Block’s tender vocals that are just above a whisper as he croons “When the ocean opens up light, I don’t see the fire. Tell me what I know. Bright light in the sunlight breaks away my fear. What I see is you.” The music then expands with lush atmospheric synths and gentle percussion, his vocals becoming more earnest and heartfelt as he pleads for help and comfort to ease his heartbreak, the ‘basement’ symbolizing how far down he’s fallen emotionally: “Someone left my heart. Someone left my heart in the basement. Come on take it out. Come on take it out of the basement.

The music continues to build as the song progresses, Art Block’s captivating vocals growing more impassioned, before calming back down in the bridge as he sings with a rather sad sense of resignation: “Tell me what you see when you find a little glow in your mind. Tell me what you see. Oh, I’m not the same man I’m supposed to be.” It’s a beautiful, emotionally moving song.

Follow Art Block:  Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music:  Spotify / Soundcloud / Apple Music
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Google Play

PHILIP MORGAN LEWIS – Video Premier: “Blowtorched Dreams”

Philip Morgan Lewis

It’s hard to believe that nearly two years have passed since I featured British singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Philip Morgan Lewis on this blog in November 2017, when I reviewed his brilliant, meticulously-crafted album Grief Harbour. The London East Ender melds alternative rock, blues, garage rock and folk influences to create his exciting, bluesy rock sound that complements his unique, raspy vocal style. Following up on Grief Harbour, he released a fun album House Works that featured eight house/EDM tracks. Now Philip is back with a bold video for his new single “Blowtorched Dreams“, which I’m honored to premier today. The single will be officially released on the 28th of October as a digital download and 7-inch vinyl.

Philip Morgan Lewis3

Philip wrote the lyrics and music, performed all the instruments and sang vocals on the track, as well as produced the song, which is being released via label TX2 Records. Backing vocals were sung by Vick E and his daughter Little A. For the recording of the track, Philip built a one-stringed instrument to play all the twangy slides, adding a rather dark country-folk vibe to his bluesy guitars and bass, all of which sound so damn good. He’s a remarkable musician and vocalist who manages to wring out every last drop of emotion with his deft, passionate guitar-playing and distinctive, raspy singing voice. When he sings of his pain, you believe every word, and the deep, almost tortured guitar work only serves to intensify those moods. It’s a brilliant track.

The dark lyrics speak to a sense of despair and hopelessness, of a life gone down the tubes as a result of having lived a self-destructive existence. Or, could it be the bitter realization of having expected too much from a cold, cruel city that eats up and discards you?

I wander night and day
Sidestepping all the way
No brighter light is gonna come
Is gonna come for me baby
Trapped in an altered state
With somebody else’s fate
No kingdom come no kingdom come
The road is done for me baby

When the chips finally fall on the ground
And the sod is just you hangin’ round
You know what’s it all about

Blowtorched dreams
Leaving blood on the pavement still
Blowtorched dreams
Leaving lives in the gutter still

I step into the dark
Draw from a crooked stack
The light is gone the light is gone
The light is gone and it ain’t coming back
No one but me to blame
I’d do it all the same
The time has come the time has come
The time has come and I don’t feel no shame

The fascinating video was directed, produced and edited by Philip and Vicky Crawley, and features black and white footage shot in and around Los Angeles, juxtaposed with scenes of Philip sitting in a darkened room singing the song. The video starts off with scenes of arriving by plane at LAX, followed by beautiful images of the sun-drenched city, evoking a sense of promise (we’re even shown a billboard with images spelling out ‘I love LA’). Suddenly, there’s a flash of light and a spacey synth chord, at which point the images become distorted with a kind of static effect that Philip refers to as “singularity distortion”, conveying a sense of tension and discord. Eventually, the scenes transition to the darkness of night, with images of raging wildfires and rather disturbing views of a long, dark tunnel leading down into the bowels of an old building, suggesting that the dreams have gone up in flames.

Connect with Philip: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream his music: Spotify / YouTube / Google Play
Purchase:  iTunes / Amazon / Deezer / Bandcamp

COLD WEATHER COMPANY – Single Review: “Way Up”

Cold Weather Company

I recently learned about Cold Weather Company when they followed me on Twitter and shared their latest single “Way Up“, and I was instantly enchanted with their music. Since then, I’ve been binge listening to their substantial back catalog (they’ve released three albums over the past four years). Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the alternative folk band formed in 2013, and consists of Brian Curry, Steve Shimchick and Jeff Petescia. All share songwriting and singing duties, with Curry and Petescia playing guitar and Shimchick on piano.

Influenced by the music of such bands as Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, Dave Matthews, Chad Stokes, Tallest Man on Earth, Coldplay, Keane and The Decemberists, their richly melodic sound is both guitar and piano-driven, with all three of them singing in perfect harmony. They released their lovely debut album Somewhere New in 2015, which had a pure, acoustic sensibility that allowed the guitars and piano to really shine. A year later, they dropped A Folded Letter, another album containing 13 tracks that delivered more of their sublime acoustic guitar/piano compositions. All of the songs are beautiful, but two of the highlights are “Wide-Eyed” and “Gettysburg”. They followed up in 2017 with an all-instrumental version of A Folded Letter, then early this year they released their gorgeous third album Find Light, an ambitious work featuring 16 tracks in which they expanded upon their sound with the addition of more orchestral instrumentation. That album received widespread and very well-deserved acclaim.

In August, they released their latest single “Way Up”, and it’s a real stunner of a tune. The song opens with the tinkling of piano keys, then expands into a breathtaking soundscape of strummed guitars, gentle bass and some of the most enthralling piano I’ve heard recently. I’m not sure which band member is singing the lead vocals, but they’re positively captivating. And as always, the guys’ vocal harmonies are exquisite. I love this song.

The band states that “Way Up” “is about finding a new perspective, and seeking hope when things are looking bleak. We could all use a little bit of that sometime.” We sure can!

Soon I’ll find my peace with time and break this (Break this hold, break this hold, from sea)
Cause I’m not foolish, I was made to shake this
No more breathless fights adrift in missteps
Oh, I’ll rise
All I ever needed is the current to survive

I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky
I found my way up, I saw the ocean meeting the sky

No more restless nights of drifting listless in my mind
Cause all I ever needed is the current to survive
I found my way up

Follow Cold Weather Company:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Google Play

ELLIE FORD – Album Review: “Light. Repeated.”

Ellie Ford album art

British singer/songwriter Ellie Ford is quite possibly the only harpist in the music world to head up a band. In addition to being an accomplished harpist, the multi-talented Brighton, England- based artist also plays guitar and sings like an angel, using her voice almost like another instrument. Assisting Ellie in the creation of her uniquely innovative Alternative Folk music are Fred Hills (drums & percussion), Andrew Stuart-Buttle (violin, mandolin, bass and backing vocals), Harry Haynes (guitar and backing vocals) and Freya Bowes (clarinet and backing vocals).

Ellie Ford band

Ellie first graced the airwaves in 2013 with her debut EP Show Night In, then followed up with a full album The Other Sun in 2016. Now she’s back with a lovely new album Light. Repeated., which dropped on 17 May. Featuring eight exquisite songs, the album sees Ellie further exploring themes of life, love and relationships through her poetic lyrics, unconventional melodies, richly layered instrumentals and the marvelous interplay between her glorious harp and enchanting vocals. Listening to the album is an immersive experience, and it’s easy to become enveloped by the enthralling soundscapes she and her band so skillfully weave.

The album opens with “Gold“, a captivating song in which Ellie’s shimmery harp strings take center stage, but with ample help by Freya’s clarinet, Harry’s strummed guitar, Fred’s gentle percussion, and Andrew’s violin, which gives the track a bit of a Celtic vibe. Ellie croons in her lilting vocals, “Kicking and calling and bracing for falling as I leave. But for a little gold, I could tide it over.”

Next up is “Light. Repeated.“, a bewitching tune that’s probably my favorite track on the album. The highlights for me are Fred’s hypnotic, seductive drumbeats and Freya’s jazzy clarinet, but Andrew’s bass, Harry’s guitar and that infectious rattle are all pretty terrific too. And it goes without saying that Ellie’s harp adds a magical component. Freya’s soulful clarinet takes a starring role on “Tired Eyes” with Ellie’s harp strings providing a strong counterpoint. The interplay between her fluttering vocals and Freya’s gorgeous clarinet notes is breathtaking, and the guitars, deep bass and drums are perfection.

My Bird Won’t Sing” is a re-imagining of a song that was originally included on The Other Sun. The previous acoustic version featured only Ellie’s vocals and her strummed guitar, but for this new version she lengthens the track by one and a half minutes, and gives it the full instrumental treatment by her band, yet keeping the vibe decidedly understated. The result is an intriguing song that holds our interest with unexpected melodic shifts that almost border on progressive jazz. Ellie’s ethereal vocals are sublime as she sings the lyrics that seem to speak of the thin line between reality and escape:  “My bird won’t sing. Have no idea what it means. And that’s OK, I don’t mind./ My diamond ring shines like the real thing. And that’s OK, I don’t mind. Comin’ off a little blind. What are we doing? Don’t you know that’s the ruin of our kind? I’m beginning to think that I might have lost my mind.

Ellie Ford by Chloe Imbach

The beautiful songs keep on coming. Another favorite is the bittersweet “All That is Left“, which features some of the most enthralling instrumentals of any song on the album. The mix of harp, piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, drums, and what sounds possibly like dulcimer, are absolutely stunning, and so are the vocal harmonies between Ellie and the guys. The lyrics speak to a relationship that’s over: “There will come a day when you’ll return. Dirt in your hair and your clothes all torn. And I’ll be gone. And all that is left, will be left to the dogs.” As its title suggests, “A Strange Brood” is a languid, brooding song lasting nearly six and a half minutes. Its  mysterious, spacey synths, tinkling piano keys, bluesy guitars, plucky harp, deep bassline and lots of crashing cymbals make for an enthralling listen.

Woods” starts off with an Eastern European Folk vibe, thanks to the Gypsy tones of Andrew’s violin and Freya’s clarinet, accompanied by Ellie’s plucked harp strings. But with the addition of heavy electric guitars and pounding drums in the bridge, the song transitions to a more intense rock feel. Album closer “The North Wind” really showcases the incredible synergy between Ellie’s harp playing and unique vocal style, and how she so beautifully complements one with the other. Other instrumentation on the track includes guitar and Fred’s kick drum and percussion, as well as the introduction of Andrew’s violin at the end.

I’ll admit that Light. Repeated. took a couple of plays to really grow on me. Though the songs sounded lovely and interesting when first hearing them, their complexity and unusual melodic structures required more than just a casual listen for me to fully appreciate. There’s an incredible amount of nuance and depth to the music and lyrics that are revealed with each successive listen, and even after hearing some of the songs five or six times, I discovered new sounds and textures. The production and song arrangements are flawless, and I’m impressed with the skilled instrumentation by the supporting musicians who help Ellie bring her magical songs to life.

Connect with Ellie: Facebook / Instagram
Stream her music on Spotify / Soundcloud
Purchase on Bandcamp / iTunes