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Folk-pop duo Lewis & Leigh combine the musical heritage of their two geographically divergent backgrounds to create a sound that is broadly accessible, yet still somehow feels personal and intimate. Vivid lyrical portraits and widely varying musical influences ranging from Americana to Motown, from traditional British folk to edgy London pop, blend effortlessly in the angelic singing voices of Alva Leigh and Al Lewis, who are well-respected songwriters individually, but who have found a sweetly sensitive fusion in their collaboration with one another.
The pair’s illustrative track ‘Rubble’, from their EP ‘Missing Years’, draws comparisons between the American Deep South where Leigh was born, and the Welsh countryside that Lewis calls home. First depicted is the coastal town of Gulfport, MS, which has been levelled by several hurricanes in recorded history, most recently Hurricane Katrina in 2005. (It’s hard to tell which hurricane is referenced in the video below, possibly 1979 Hurricane Frederic or 1985 Hurricane Elena). The song’s second verse refers to the struggles surrounding the Welsh Mining Strike of 1984, with the chorus making the connection between the two seemingly disparate locations, observing how each was reduced to rubble in the aftermath of those disastrous events. The final verse talks about having roots in those places, and being drawn to them, each sympathizing with the other’s toil and trouble. It’s a haunting and thought-provoking song whose musical setting is elegantly sensitive to the musical style and cultural spirit of each region.
Lewis & Leigh’s debut EP ‘Night Drives’ won attention from BBC Radio 2, with lead single ‘What Is There To Do’ spending four weeks on that station’s playlist back in 2014. The duo subsequently performed live sessions with Dermot O’Leary and BBC Radio Scotland’s Ricky Ross. Their latest single, a soulful jazz pop tune called ‘Heart Don’t Want’, has already received well-deserved attention in America from the likes of Rolling Stone and NPR, as well as a Twitter endorsement from veteran singer/songwriter Ryan Adams. The song was recorded as part of their latest EP ‘Hidden Truths’ and produced at Urchin Studios by Matt Ingram and Dan Cox, who also helmed Laura Marling‘s latest album ‘Short Movie’.
Lewis & Leigh’s current EP ‘Hidden Truths’ is available now. The pair are currently touring the new EP throughout the UK. Their final live dates for the season are listed below.
Thursday 12th November 2015 – Sheffield Cafe No. 9
Friday 13th November 2015 – Kirton-in-Lindsey Town Hall
Saturday 14th November 2015 – Leeds High & Lonesome Festival
Friday 11th December 2015 – Cardiff St. John the Evangelist’s Church, Canton
Editor’s note: we’re trying a new experiment with a premiere of a different kind of Bands to Watch feature, specific to a region. Our Nick lives in West London and was itching to write about the bands he finds inspiring just on his doorstep. Do you feel the same way about the bands in your area? If yes, get in touch with us on Twitter at @tgtf and we can chat about highlighting your local favourites in a future edition!
West London has always had a rich musical scene. Back in the 1960s, it was where Alexis Korner established his rhythm and blues network in Ealing that would see bands like the Rolling Stones and The Who meet up and get their first breaks. Then came Jim Marshall, who decided to build amplifiers for this burgeoning scene, and Led Zeppelin used to rehearse in a school hall in Hanwell.
But that was the past. I hear you ask, what is the scene like now? Here are the six most exciting and intoxicating bands that the West London boroughs have to offer.
Ella and the Blisters
Filled with the Romany spirit, this bunch of gypsy punks turn every venue they play into a celebration of life and music, and they’ve been entertaining audiences up and down the country since 2013. After a blistering set at this year’s Green Belt Festival and Secret Garden Party, there is a rumour of a second album next year. This septet mixes traditional folk, gypsy jazz, rockabilly, country, New Orleans soul and punk ideology to create something that sounds fresh and vibrant, but also feels familiar due to having one foot in the past.
This trio’s brand of heavy rhythmic rock gives you faith in the genre’s future. Instead of trying to pander to the get rich quick band of pop stars and flavour of the month genres, Two Hands have delivered one exceptional EP this year and there is a rumour of another. Their live sets are enthused with songs that put an etch in your sketch. Mixing Queens of the Stone Age, Interpol, Arctic Monkeys, but with the vocal intensity of Texas is the Reason, Glassjaw and Rival Schools, their sound is big riffs, catchy shouty choruses and ultimately a good time.
West London isn’t just known for its rock, jazz is in the fabric of the boroughs. The Rolling Stones met and formed at the Ealing Jazz Club. One local musician carrying the jazz spirit is Jon Mapp. While technically he is not 100% jazz, he does use certain techniques and devices that lend themselves to jazz readily. Mapp plays certain patterns of bass notes, which he then records and loops. Then he plays new bass parts over this, along with percussive beats and rhythms. Easy, eh? But the real cleverness is the intricacies and interplay of the old and new bass runs. It’s melodic, hypnotic and strangely beautiful.
Originally from Richmond, Lorca now spends his time between his West London hub, Brighton and DJing breath taking sets around the world. His style is refreshing and inventive. This was showcased on the ‘Forgive Me Love’ / ‘Naoko’ single last year. Now he has started to infuse his output with tribal vocals and rhythms, however it still remains true to Lorca’s bass heavy ethos. Due to countless DJ sets around the world, Lorca’s tracks have a dance floor sensibility that matches his creative vision.
What’s not to like about Odd Rival? They’re young, play loud and fast and write brilliant songs. Live, they’re incendiary and blow away any other band on the line-up due to their frenetic playing and a hunger to make it. Their brand of math-punk sets them aside from their peers, as not only can they play – and how can they play – but they have an uncanny understanding of melody that means their songs don’t get lost in weighty ideas and unnecessary solos. Stand out track ‘Slave’ sounds like Longcut meets Foals, but with the riffs of Swervedriver at their heaviest.
Du Bellows (pictured at top)
The jewel in West London’s musical crown is Du Bellows. Musically. They sound like a mix of Fleetwood Mac and John McLaughlin at their acoustic, folky peaks. There are elements of the blues in there too, but it’s their vibe that conjures up images of musical past more as much as the present. I could add even more lazy journalism to this and say they remind me of a more stripped down Big Brother & the Holding Company with a certain female vocalist. I won’t, but you get the gist. But it’s the clarity and range of singer Jade Williams’ vocals that are the real hook. She can go from husky whispers to maelstroms of volume and passion in seconds. Also it helps that she’s backed by one of the tightest rhythm sections this side of Nashville, and in TJ Shipton Williams, this band have a guitarist who can not only match her note for note, but predict where she’ll go next.
Header photo by David Fathi
Really distinctive female singing voices are hard to come by of late, with mainstream singers all trying to affect the artfully hoarse quality of Adele or the girlishly singsong tones of Taylor Swift, while garage rock girl bands seem to have adopted a collective monotonous drone. Even outside the mainstream pop realm, it’s quite rare to hear a female vocalist with the authentic emotionality and unique vocal timbre of Australian blues rock singer/songwriter Suzie Stapleton. Her low, sensual alto alternates between a brittle whisper and raw throaty power, finding every dynamic shade in between to articulate the meanings between the lines of her starkly realistic lyrics.
The five songs on Stapleton’s 2012 EP ‘Obladi Diablo’ are of the tough, gritty traditional blues rock variety and like her singing voice, Stapleton’s guitar style is unscathed by the current mainstream trend of watered down blues rock. The EP’s lead single ‘My Cons are Making a Cripple Out of Me’ is shadowy and evocative, with the wail of overdriven guitars matching the rough-hewn quality of Stapleton’s vocal delivery. Later track ‘Hit’ is similarly dark, both musically and lyrically, the guitars creating a murky background as Stapleton sings the dazed lines “take me down where the air is like wine / the dive is divine / drag me down / I’m hanging on the line”. The repeated refrain “I get hit” grows into a scorching guitar bridge ahead of the intensely bitter closing line “I take the bait every time”.
Stapleton channels fire and brimstone in standout track ‘Song of the Artesian Water’, whose lyrics are adapted from a poem by Australian writer Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson: “if the Lord won’t send us water / oh, we’ll get it from the devil / yes, we’ll get it from the devil deeper down”. Stapleton chooses to focus her lyrical interpretation on the repeated phrase “deeper down” as she digs into her own emotional wellspring for a gut-wrenching vocal delivery.
While touring in support of ‘Obladi Diablo’ in 2013, Stapleton garnered the attention of roots musician and producer Cypress Grove, who asked her to perform on the third installment of his Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions Project titled ‘Axels & Sockets’. That album was released in May of 2014 and included established artists Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Mick Harvey and Debbie Harry, among others. Stapleton contributed her signature husky vocals on two tracks from the record, including first single ‘Constant Limbo (Constant Rain)’; listen for her around the 4-minute mark.
This year has found Stapleton on tour throughout Europe and in the UK, including summer support slots for Mick Harvey and more recent autumn dates opening for Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind. She has recently relocated to London to begin work on her debut full length recording. Her EP ‘Obladi Diablo’ was released via French label Beast Records and is available digitally on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 15th October 2015 at 12:00 pm
Words by Steven Loftin
Everyone likes things that are a little bit different. We may not admit it, but we love the things in life that don’t conform. Those things that stick out, fingers held high. That leads us nicely on to HÔN, a perfect example of this. With a mainstream sound that echoes that of the poppier end of dance tracks, a lyrical emotional depth of alternative tracks, a style that wouldn’t be lost on a Lady Gaga tour.
Hailing from Denmark, HÔN is the brainwork of Jesper Lidang, frontman and songwriter of The Rumour Said Fire, along with Nis Bested on production duties. Together, they have crafted a sound that is fit for the popular echelons in the industry, while still can keep the scenesters satisfied. (Do you mean keeping them happy / they’d listen to this?)
Utilising his own voice as a key component in the instrumentation, they form layers of dreamscape, allowing his distinctive leading vocals to cut through and deliver a high level of songwriting he has strived for and from all accounts hearing his efforts so far, achieved.
There are also hip-hop heavy moments that can break through, and this is shown in the lead single and first foray into HÔN as an artist, with ‘Silent Lover’. Opening with a massive beat, and leading into his characteristically harmonious chorus, it’s a track with serious pop power that can only prove to be an asset on his new journey. Not to mention that it would be the perfect opener for his debut record.
‘Honeydream’ is the second introductory track to be released in preparation for the debut album ‘White Lion’ which is out near the end of October. ‘Honeydream’ recalls early Chairlift with its use of reverb-heavy synths and melodic charm.
To give you an idea of exactly where this project could be heading, when asked for a description of his new music by his label, Tambourhinoceros, Jesper replied with a two-page essay entitled ‘I Vanish’. As described, his personality vanished into a universe where he became multiple voices and identities. This project has barely begun, yet it can only wield positive, game-changing results.
By Mary Chang
on Monday, 14th September 2015 at 12:00 pm
Lorely Rodriguez, better known by her stage name Empress Of, is not truly a new artist in the conventional sense of our Bands to Watch feature. However, her debut album ‘Me’, recorded in Mexico and released on XL Recordings / Terrible Records just last Friday, and it’s already garnering the Honduran-American who grew up in Los Angeles serious critical plaudits, so we’d be fools not to give her some of our time.
For a young woman who was once a competitive jazz singer and attended – and then quit – an East Coast music school to which she’d won a full scholarship to, it’s not a surprise her vocal acrobatics shine on her debut. For more evidence, have a watch and a listen to ‘How Do You Do It’, a frenetic behind the scenes look at Rodriguez’s touring life. She’d best be getting used to this, with her North American tour campaign to support ‘Me’ having just begun in earnest in her current home in Brooklyn Sunday night at the Music Hall of Williamburg.
Jon Pareles of the New York Times lauded her debut LP, saying of her sound, “Empress Of provides the neatness of pop minus the reassurance.” For sure, her coolness makes her come across like a modern day Kate Bush on album track ‘Need Myself’, who Rodriguez said on Twitter makes her “immediately feel hungover and 19 again”. Presumably Ms. ‘Babooshka’ was a good childhood influence? The influence of another idiosyncratic and uncompromising artist, Bjork, seem also apparent on ‘Kitty Kat’, Rodriguez putting her voice through its paces in an almost Oriental way, synths buzzing and beats booming. I’m imagining it must be quite a feat to behold live. (Sadly, I didn’t get a chance at this in person, as she cancelled her appearance at the Great Escape 2015 back in May.)
When I saw that Rodriguez’s early Spanish/English language EP ‘Systems’ was released in 2013 on UK indie label Double Denim Records, that rung a bell…because New York via Colombia and Vancouver artist Tei Shi signed with them late last year. It seems inevitable that the two will be compared, owing to them both having Latin backgrounds and their predilection towards electronic music with dreamy vocals on top. Will they be friends? Will they be rivals? Either way, I think we’re headed towards a total renaissance of strong female singer/songwriters firmly in the electronic realm. Which can be nothing but a good thing in my books.
‘Me’, the debut album by Empress Of, is out now on XL Recordings / Terrible Records.
London singer / songwriter / producer Laurel Arnell-Cullen, known in music circles simply as Laurel, has the singing voice and musical chops to make her a bona fide pop star, not to mention a certain physical beauty–she moonlights as a model alongside her music career. Indeed, she has already garnered an impressive number of online fans: 3,000 followers on her Soundcloud, 14,000 followers on her Facebook and more than 5,000 followers on her Twitter feed. But take a look past the pretty face, vocal acrobatics and heavy dance beats, and you’ll find a few pleasantly unexpected quirks in Laurel’s musical style that distinguish her from her alt-pop contemporaries.
Laurel’s released her breakout track ‘Fire Breather’ in January 2014. Its stark rhythmic pulse and Laurel’s sultry vocals are a remarkably effective musical accompaniment to the fiery lyrical imagery in the song’s chorus “No, it’s too much / burn my sun / up in flames we go / you fire breather / ash and dust on my door / smoke rise / trying to survive inside your arms”.
‘Fire Breather’ was quickly followed in April 2014 by an EP titled ‘To The Hills’ which features three different mixes of the string-laden title track along with the mesmerizing fan favourite ‘Shells’. Laurel subsequently posted three remixes of ‘Shells’ on her Soundcloud, each emphasising a different facet of the song, revealing both a strong musical foundation and an intrinsic flexibility in her work.
Laurel’s next EP ‘Holy Water’ came out during the Christmas season of 2014 and contains an excellent collaboration with TGTF alumnus Sivu called ‘Come Together’. The duet vocals of ‘Come Together’ alternate between the square, almost robotic delivery of the opening lyrical lines “I’m the maker of rituals / I’m gonna swallow you up and eat you” and the softer, sweeter vocal harmonies that immediately follow. The shimmering wash of instrumental sound is slow and sensual, grounded by a heavy bass pulse and a crisp percussion rhythm.
April 2015 saw the online release of a Laurel’s experimental mixtape EP called ‘Allelopathy’. As our science-minded editor Mary probably already knows, alleleopathy “is a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms.” It’s an interesting title for a set of songs, presumably referring to the figurative chemistry of a romantic relationship. The songs on the EP are given the scientific names of different plant species, including the cheeky ‘Laurocerasus’, or common laurel.
Laurel’s most recent release is a new single titled ‘Blue Blood’, which sees a return to her alt-pop comfort zone, with dramatic strings and tribal drum beats in the instrumental arrangement along with Laurel’s impressive vocal flexibility. The delicate, ethereal quality of the layered backing vocals is matched by the translucent visual layers in the accompanying video, directed by Ben Newbury.
While Laurel’s most popular songs lean toward a homogenous mainstream pop style, her naturalistic lyrical imagery and the inherently dramatic quality of her instrumental arrangements keep them fresh and unique. Her more experimental work and her collaborations with other artists are equally intriguing, with potential for shaping the evolution of her already precociously prolific body of work.
Laurel’s latest single ‘Blue Blood’ is out now on her own independent label Next Time Records.